The North American Martyrs
Today our Church honors the memory and the evangelization of a small group of noble Jesuit missionaries who willingly accepted, and in most cases having asked for, assignments to the new continent, North America. Were the accounts of these martyrdoms be truly portrayed on TV today there would be a violence warning to viewers. To read the lives of these heroic men would demand a strong stomach. These men, Jesuit priests, brothers, and a layman (a former Jesuit who was asked to leave because of illnesses) were stronger than most would imagine. Yet martyrdom was and never will be an easy "immediate entry" into the Kingdom of God.
The gospel for the Mass honoring these loyal followers of St. Ignatius of Loyola is Matthew 16:21, 24-28. It is the first time that Jesus puts before his close followers the prediction of his passion and death. Imagine how these colleagues felt when the man they were expecting to be the Messiah gives them a heads up on the imminent future. Their hearts and minds must have been swirling in disbelief and fear.
Jesus told his group that, if they were to follow him, they should know that suffering is very much a part of life for anyone who wished to associate with him and his mission ... then and even today. We do not hear of martyrdom in our Church today but each year the Holy See publishes a list of the men and women who were martyred for their faith. Sadly, however, the list of these mordern faithful followers of Jesus Christ is not made up of just one or two names!
The sacrifice of their lives was for these North American martyrs the ultimate promise of fidelity to Jesus Christ. It is put before us today as a reminder that even in our advanced world, a days of so many modern technological accomplishments, that what is more important to us is our living our the desire we have to follow Jesus Christ.
While working my reflective way through Pope Benedict's "Motu Proprio" Porta Fidei in which the Holy Father announced that he would be leading the Church in a Holy Year beginning October 11, 2012 and continuing through the feats of Christ the King, November 24, 2013, it is clear that our faith is challenged today in so many ways. In a sense many have abandoned the "Barque of Peter" because of the sacrifices that are demanded in a world that offers so many contradictions to the Commandments and the teachings of the Church. There is no doubt that Catholics today, as well as all Christians, are faced with the challenges of so many different calls to sacrifice. Our world today is a haven for evil in so many places and hearts. It is evil not just in the experiences of terrorism and wars. The challenges to each persons moral and ethical stances evolves from what has become a universal weakening of the practice of faith. In our lifetime the Christian faith, built upon the Commandments as well as the teachings of Jesus Christ, has been undergoing a genuine martyrdom. Surely the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart and mind of the current Roman Pontiff in his desire to lead all bishops, priests, religious and laity to a renewed life of faith. Obviously much more information will be shared with all of us in the months ahead so that we can prepare ourselves to cross the threshold of the "Porta Fidei", the 'door of faith.'