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The Word, The Truth

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Homily for Red Wednesday, 23 November 2022, Lk 21:12-19

The lights of Christ Redeemer were changed because of the visit of Father Douglas Bazi to Brazil. The color red was choosed to remember the Martyrs of today.

What is the difference between a victim and a martyr?

If the wrong person is killed by a hired killer because he just “happened to be in the wrong place at a wrong time”, then you call that person a VICTIM. But if a person, despite receiving death threats, and all sorts of intimidations continues to stand on what he believes is right and just, and he suffers the consequences, then you don’t call him a VICTIM.

The word that our Gospel today is using is: “one who gives witness or testimony”. The Greek verb for giving witness is martureo. The noun is marturia. It is the origin of the English word MARTYR.

Victims are those who have suffered and died as a matter of fate, not as a matter of choice. At the outset one can probably say a martyr is also a victim because no real martyr, given an option, would want to die. But their stubborn choice to stand on what is right no matter what, is precisely what differentiates them from the victim. One might say they have made a choice, a choice “to give witness”, in Tagalog, MAGPATOTOO. They have consciously chosen this path, the path of Jesus, knowing full well that it could cost their lives.

This is what “martyrdom” is about. I don’t know how the word “martir” in Tagalog has come to mean something pejorative, as in stupid or submissive, or even masochistic or suicidal. I think people have confused it with victimhood. Martyrdom is not about “dying for a cause”; it is rather about living out one’s faith, giving witness to it, no matter what the cost might be, exactly as Jesus did. To witness to a Christlike life is what martyrdom is about. It is a conscious choice to follow the path of Christ. We don’t call such people victims; we call them MARTYRS.

The priests of the Old Testament offered “victims” on the altar of sacrifice. These victims were animals that had been picked out for the slaughter and burned as sacrificial offerings.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews distinguishes the priesthood of Christ from the priesthood of the old dispensation. In Christ, he says, the offerer and the offering, the priest and the victim, have become one. When he makes an offering, his statement is not, “I will offer a lamb for your redemption”. Rather, he says, “I will be both the offerer and the lamb myself. I’ll give up my life for you.” And so as Christians, we are made to understand our baptism as a call to participate in that one priesthood of Christ. A priestly life in Christ is a life of witnessing, of martyrdom. Because we are called to be friends of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, we are expected to do likewise.

The early Christians were thrown out of the synagogues; some of them were accused falsely of being cannibals. This is said to be the background behind John 6 and the BREAD OF LIFE DISCOURSE where Jesus says, “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” John says, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

But Peter stood his ground and answered him, John 6:68 “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He had made a choice, and for this, he would later be crucified upside down.

St Paul also spoke about his choice to stay on in the ministry despite all the odds. In 2 Cor 4:7-11, he describes the ministry as a “treasure in an earthen vessel” precisely to prove that its “surpassing power comes from God and not from us.” Then he says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Like Peter, Paul also died a martyr’s death.

The country in Asia with the biggest number of martyrs include Korea, Vietnam and Japan and China. We offer this Eucharist as a memorial for them and for those who have not been canonized but whose life of witnessing is known only to God.

Tertullian once said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.” This became the inspiration for a Mexican proverb, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

A Greek poet gave this proverb a further elaboration. He said,

“No matter what happens: I WILL RISE!

No matter the conditions: I RISE!

No matter the circumstances: I RISE!

They doubt me: I RISE!

They reject me: I RISE!

The ridicule me: I RISE!

No matter what happens: I WILL RISE!

WHY? BECAUSE WE ARE AN EASTER PEOPLE. OUR FAITH IN THE RESURRECTION MAKES US BELIEVE THAT NO MATTER WHAT SUFFERING AND DEATH WE MAY HAVE TO FACE, WE WILL RISE. THAT IS WHY NO AMOUNT OF PERSECUTION CAN STOP THE CHURCH FROM CARRYING ON WITH HER MISSION.

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