I preached this homily on the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.
There is a legend that Saint John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos were traveling through Latrobe. Due to the Anti-Catholicism of the time they could not find a place to stay. They found a tavern that would accept them—Francis Xavier Seelos slept on a bench, and Saint John Neumann paced all night reading his breviary and praying. Perhaps an example like this is what our Lord would use to once again explain that being a faithful follower of Christ does entail some difficulties, but it is in those difficulties that we are drawn into a closer union with God.
Isaiah talks about a life given as an offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10-11) and the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we have a great high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses(cf. Hebrews 4:14-16).
The High Priest would once a year enter into the Temple in Jerusalem. There he would utter the sacred name of God-He was the only one allowed to do this, and he would offer the sacrifice of two male goats for a sin offering a ram as a holocaust. Through this the people of Israel would be restored to their relationship with God. Yet this sacrifice was not sufficient—through original sin, a great break had happened between mankind and God. A break that only a God-man could repair. A break that the true High Priest could repair.
Our Lord is the true High Priest who enters into the true Temple of Heaven (Gospel: Mark 10:35-45). Through His own sacrifice on the cross, He offered Himself to the Father in atonement for our sins. We participate in this sacrifice when we come to Mass, and also when we share in the passion. The Mass makes this sacrifice present to us today.
James and John both shared in the cup of suffering, James in his execution, and John in his own martyrdom of exile to Patmos. We should not lose hope if we too share very intensely in suffering. When we experience suffering, we can react in one of two ways: we can either reject the suffering, but then we end up in anger, bitterness, frustration. Or, we can allow the suffering to draw us closer to our Lord, in sharing in His passion and death. We can do this by the graces that are given to us through the sacraments, especially the Mass where our Lord tears open the veil to the Heavenly Sanctuary as our great High Priest. This great High priest understands, and experienced human weakness: physical suffering, abandonment by those closest to Him, rejection by those who should have warmly accepted Him, and we can see His closeness to us in allowing the devil to propose temptations to Him, which he soundly rejected. There too He showed us His High Priestly power in rejecting the devil. We only need to ask Jesus to help us to suffer well and to reject temptations against faith, hope, and love. Those who suffer are given a powerful opportunity to share in the redemptive work of Christ, and it is those who suffer greatly who are given a great responsibility and a great power in their suffering, because Christ is very close to them—to you. In suffering we can see all those attachments and our passions in their true worth.
Recently we celebrated the feast of the North American Martyrs. Saints Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf and companions were brutally martyred for the faith. These two Jesuit missionary priests and their companions were killed bbetween the years 1642 and 1649 in modern day northern New York and into Canada.
Saint Isaac Jogues, after thirteen months’ imprisonment by the Mohawks, had several fingers cut off of his hand. He went back to Europe, but returned again to North America at his own request. He received permission by the Pope to offer mass since his thumbs and forefingers had been cut off. He was killed by tomahawk blows at Ossernenon, now called Auriesville, in New York State. Saint John de Brebeuf declared before he died, “I have a strong desire to suffer for Jesus Christ.” He was tortured terribly-including having scalding water poured on him in mockery of baptism, and a burning torch was put into his mouth, which strangled him. Saint John de Brebeuf wrote, “May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me”.
These men were filled with such zeal for the Catholic faith, to convert the native Americans, that nothing would stop them. They knew that their suffering would be united to Christ on the cross, who had died for them. This suffering would be wasted in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of Faith, it is a powerful witness. Nowadays how easily we deny our faith, how easily we want to fit the Faith into our culturally accepted notions. We want to live an easy life, and have only zeal to save up for a comfortable retirement full of pleasure. We want to live only for the here and now. We accept contraception and cohabitation without blinking an eye. Catholics somehow vote for politicians who support the grave evil of abortion—the brutal murder of children. Evil is still evil, no matter how acceptable to the culture it has become, and we cannot support evil. There are five things that we can never support, especially when it comes time to election and voting for politicians: 1. Abortion, 2. Euthanasia, 3. Embryonic stem cell research, 4. Human cloning, 5. Same sex “marriage”. These are intrinsically evil and we can never support such things. Remember always, no matter how far we have fallen we have a great high priest who understands our weakness. We return to him in the sacrament of confession.
What would these saints say to all of this? Their blood cries to heaven! Are we looking to the joys of heaven for those who suffer for Christ? We need to be on fire for the Faith! We need to be on fire for Christ, taking every opportunity to learn more—good spiritual reading, good talks on those CDs we have in the back, time in prayer and adoration, coming to daily Mass, praying the Rosary every day, standing up for human life from conception to natural death. Living modestly, throwing out contraception and contraceptive mentalities. Praying with Sacred Scripture and the prayers of the Church. Servant of God John Hardon once said that St. Jean de Brebeuf blessed the soil of North America with his own blood as he lay dying, claiming it for Jesus Christ. We have been claimed, we have been redeemed and purchased at the price of the blood of the Redeemer and the blood of martyrs has flowed to spread the Gospel. Now let us not waste this great gift—“the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian, Apologeticus, China’s. 50