The Saints inspires us by standing up for God’s truth. We are called to do the same and inspire others.
My brothers and sisters, how is your Christian living? Are you thriving? Are you struggling? Are you worn down? Christian living can be hard. Christians have been persecuted through the ages. Our Lord Himself suffered an excruciating death for no faults of his own. 11 of the 12 Apostles were martyred for the faith. In later years, many Christians died at the hands of the Roman Empire. In spite of that, there has never been a human movement quite like Christianity – because it is not just a human movement. For any other human movement to be persecuted as Christianity has been over the ages, it would have been wiped from existence a long time ago. As the renown Jewish scholar Gamaliel told the Council of Pharisees, referring to the Apostles the Pharisees arrested, he said, “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39)
One of the reasons Christianity is able survive (and thrive) through two millennia of adversarial times is that God Himself is the origin of the Christian movement. In the Bible, we often hear of God supporting His people through supernatural phenomenon and miracles. Alas, on many occasions, these supernatural events did not lead to increased faith among the people. The Israelites grumbled against God in the desert, in spite of them witnessing the Ten Plagues in Egypt (Ex 7-11) and the parting of the Red Sea (Ex 14:21). In the Gospel, Jesus once healed ten lepers, most walked away without showing any appreciation. Only one stayed behind, “prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (Lk 17:16). The truth is, spectacular events in our faith life are like sugar hits in our diet – the euphoria is often short-lived and temporary. Such is the weakness of our human nature. Often, to have a more lasting effect in our lives – good or bad – we need role models to inspire us into emulating them. In the Second Reading of the previous week, St Paul remarked how he became an example of faith to the Thessalonians (1 The 1:6); and in turn, the Thessalonians became examples of faith to “all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 The 1:7).
My dear brothers and sisters, this may surprise you. That Christianity survived and thrived through two millennia is note because God performs frequent supernatural miracles to convince and sustain the believers. Rather, it is because God inspired saintly people to walk in the way of truth; these in turn inspire others; and in turn others; and so on. And so it spreads, the ripples of God’s truth go out to all the world. In truth, the reason Christianity is able to survive and thrive through two millennia is because God constantly raise up Saints among the people. And here is another amazing thing: Saints are ordinary people like you and me. They heard the truth like you and me. However, unlike many of us, the Saints were not afraid to proclaim and live in the truth of God, often in spite of great opposition. In fact, many were martyred as a result. Here are a few examples:
- St Lawrence was roasted to death by Emperor Valerian during the persecution of the Christians in 258 AD. The Emperor wanted St Lawrence to disclosed where the Church hid its treasures. Instead, St Lawrence brought the poor, the disabled, the sick and the orphaned to the Emperor, proclaiming these to be the treasures of the Church.
- St Agnes of Rome, who at a young age of 13, decided to devote her life to the Lord by remaining a virgin. She was persecuted and punished for her faith – she was stripped naked; dragged through the streets to a brothel; and eventually sentenced to death.
- During World World II in 1941, St Maximilian Kolbe gave his life for a stranger in the German death camp of Auschwitz.
In the First Reading this week, St John saw a heavenly vision where martyred Saints such as St Lawrence, St Agnes and St Maximilian Kolbe, robed in white, gathered before the throne of God. “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (verse 14)
My brothers- and sisters-in-Christ, what about us? Am I persecuted for my faith? Has God called me to walk in the way of truth, so that I may inspire others just as the Saints who came before me did? In many ways, these modern times are not that different from the days of old. We live in a secular and relativist world. And just like the days of old, when we Christians stood for truth and against the prevailing tide of society, many fingers of accusation point at us. To safeguard against the lives of unborn children, we Christians are accused of being against women and their rights to choose. To safeguard the lives and dignity of the sick and frail, we Christians are accused of lacking in compassion in prolonging sufferings. To safeguard the sanctity of sexual love and against the culture of promiscuity, we Christians are accused of being out of touch with the modern ways of expressing love. To safeguard the institution of marriage, we Christian are accused of discrimination. These accusations and others like it are based on misunderstandings or a lack of understanding of Christian teachings. In fact, the proclamation of truth, freedom, compassion and love is a consistent message of Christianity through the millennia. These Christian values have stood the test of time; and more importantly, are the path to true happiness.
With the exception of a few extreme cases, we modern-day Christians are generally not asked to give up our physical lives for our faith. Nevertheless, we are called to live the truth as the Saints were, and at times we are called to martyrdom in our own ways. For example, we often hear how some political movements threatening the job, businesses and personal safety of Christians. So, if I stand up for our Christian faith, I may be confronted with a choice. Do I let the Saints inspire me, so that I may stand up for God’s truth; and in turn inspire others to do the same? Or do I rather keep a superficial peace by keeping my faith a private and personal matter; and in so doing, cause the ripples of God’s truth to stop at me? Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Lk 12:51) In the face of division, it is always easier keep our heads low and keep quiet. And to justify our inaction, we find excuses. This was what Moses did when God first called him to lead the Israelites: “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Ex 4:10) But God said to Moses, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” (Ex 4:11-12) Yes, standing and speaking up for God’s truth is often not easy. However, but St Paul assures us, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
But not all Christians are called to proclaim God’s truth in a publicly visible or even vocal way. It depends on the charism we are given. St Paul said, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (1 Cor 12:17-18) For example, St Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus, was not called to proclaim the truth in a visible or vocal way. Instead, through small and simple day-to-day sacrifices, she lived God’s love. In the convent, Therese would smile at the sisters who were mean to her; and ate the worst leftovers left for her without complaint. She once said, “The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” Whether we proclaim God’s truth in a vocal way like St Paul or in a non-vocal way like St Therese, we must never underestimate how God uses us to spread the ripples of truth. As St Teresa of Calcutta said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Or as the Second Reading explained, we are all children of God (verse 1). We are all destined to greatness. But greatness, whether it is in this life or in the afterlife, is by no means guaranteed. “What we will be has not yet been revealed” (verse 2). It is up to us whether we would take up God’s invitation to walk in His truth.
Let us conclude this week’s reflection by meditating the Beatitudes in this week’s Gospel:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These are the ways of the saints – which include you and I. Let us go forth to live and proclaim God’s truth. Amen.