What the Church Needs Today are More Martyrs!
(Homily for Priesthood and Diaconal Ordination, Diocese of El Paso)
May 26, 2017
First Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-3a, 6a, 8b-9
Second Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-7, 11-13
Gospel: John 20: 19-23
What the Church needs today are more Martyrs! Any volunteers?
I’m not just speaking on my own here. I am drawing from the homily of Pope Francis just a couple days ago. He said, “A Church without martyrs breeds distrust.” Why? Because, as he pointed out, the path of daily conversion should lead us to move from “a worldy, tranquil, safe, lukewarm Catholic, to the joy of Christ’s announcement.”
Yes! We need Martyrs! Many of you gathered here this evening might be surprised to hear this. You might be thinking we just came to see a nice ceremony in which some young men are deputized for their new job; prepared to live in a nice house, drive nice cars, eat out whenever and wherever they want, take nice vacations and be cared for by the Church.
But the young men whom we Ordain this evening are not surprised by the Pope’s statement. For one thing they have read and studied the Scriptures. They themselves had a hand in choosing the readings we just heard proclaimed representing the languages of the countries from which they have come.
They know that when the Prophet Isaiah says he was anointed by the Spirit to bring glad tidings to the lowly, liberty to captives, release to prisoners, and so on, he accepted that those in power would not always be happy with his witness. Isaiah knew he would stir things up and make those who were doing evil uncomfortable. No matter how lovingly and mercifully this Word is proclaimed there will be some who will not like it, some who feel threatened by it.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians he was already in prison as we heard at the beginning of the second reading. Who can read Paul without knowing that he was well aware of what his call implied: that he needed at every turn to be willing to give up his life for the sake of Christ? As he says in another place, “I wish…to know how to share in his sufferings by being formed into the pattern of his death.” (Phil. 3:11) Who can deny that we need more martyrs, like Paul?
When Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples as we heard in the Gospel it was so that through the Spirit his life would be recapitulated in theirs. As the Father had sent him, so he was sending them. As he had forgiven sins, so they would forgive sins. As he had healed, so they would heal. As he had preached good news to the poor, so they would preach. As he had laid down his life, so they would lay down their lives. The Church needs more Martyrs!
The easy kind of martyrdom, if I might dare say so, is the kind where in one brief glorious moment one professes his faith and is slain. The truth of course is that no one is ready for that moment unless by their daily prayer and service and acceptance of suffering they have habitually laid down their lives they will not be ready when the definitive moment comes.
The word “martyr” means “witness”. All the Baptized are called to be witnesses by their lives, but by your Ordination you yourselves become radical signs, “witnesses” to the living, breathing presence of Christ in the world.
By the promise of celibacy, which you reaffirm today, Cong, a promise which you, German and Victorino, will make in the presence of the Church for the first time, you reveal the Spirit’s power and the depth of your commitment to God’s people. You reveal the in-breaking of God’s kingdom into the here and now of our world, a kingdom in which, as Jesus taught us our love will be so non-exclusive, our love will be so without limits, that no one will be married or given in marriage.
You will promise obedience to me and my successors, freely choosing to lay aside the fallen human quest for radical independence, even from God.
You will promise to be persons of prayer, prayer rooted in the consecration of all the hours of the day by joining in the prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours.
Implicit in your calling is the commitment to live according to the Gospel in simplicity of life and self-giving for the sake of God’s people. By living in this way you yourselves will be living witnesses of the Mysteries you celebrate.
I have confidence that you, my brothers who are about to be ordained to the diaconate, and you Cong, who will be Ordained to the priesthood are ready to accept this challenge. Part of what makes me confident is when I consider your heritage, your bloodline, if you will.
German, you are from Columbia, a country that has suffered through a protracted civil war. The people and the Church there have been caught between Marxist guerillas and right wing death squads for 50 years. According to the Colombian bishops’ conference, 85 priests, two bishops, eight religious men and women, and two seminarians have been killed for their faith in your country since 1984.
Victorino, you come from the southern islands of the Philippines, namely Mindanao. Your home has also been torn by strife between Islamic extremists and an often corrupt and unjust government. Your country’s martyrs extend from Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod of the XVII Century to events that are targeting priests and bishops even today.
Vietnam, as you well know, Cong, has always been a Church of Martyrs from its beginnings in the XVI Century when the Faith first arrived there until now. Pope John Paul II Canonized over 100 in 1988, but, of course there have been thousands more killed because of their faith, bishops, priests, religious and laity. We should particularly mention the saintly, François Xavier Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan who spent 13 years in prison and whose cause for canonization has begun. In addition there are those untold thousands of Vietnamese who live their faith today with great sacrifice such as your own parents have done.
How grateful we are for the richness of the heritage of Faith you three bring to us! How appropriate that you will soon prostrate yourselves in the same place where 99 years ago, our own martyr-saint, San Pedro de Jesús Maldonado, first began his ministry as a witness to Christ, a witness that was capped 19 years later by the shedding of his blood.
El Paso is also a Church of Martyrs, it is a community of people who even today give their lives with great commitment as witnesses of Christ. We pray that together through the power of the Holy Spirit we might strengthen one another to be faithful to our calling and by our generous self-giving be signs to all the world of the victory of Christ’s cross.
Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz