For many of us who live in the United States in 2009, the idea of dying for our faith is hard to imagine. Yet, throughout history, people willingly gave up their lives to defend the Catholic Faith. Even if we are not asked to give up our lives, many of us will encounter situations where we are called to defend our faith in some way.
In the first reading from today’s Mass (Heb13:1-8), we are reminded that “The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” This echoes what is said in the responsorial psalm (Ps 27:1, 3, 5, 8b-9abc) “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”
In today’s gospel, St. Mark relates the story of John the Baptist (Mk 6:14-29) who was imprisoned and subsequently murdered because he admonished King Herod for his illegitimate marriage. The fear of punishment did not deter John from doing the right thing. He knew that even though he could be made to suffer on earth, nobody could take away the reward waiting for him in the next life. If we persevere and faithfully follow The Lord’s commandments, we will live with Him forever someday.
It is also appropriate that today The Church commemorates the martyrdom of St. Paul Miki and his companions. In 1597, he was crucified along with 25 other Christians in Nagasaki, Japan simply because they were followers of Christ. Much like John the Baptist, Paul Miki wasn’t afraid to die for his beliefs. From the cross he said, “The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”
As I mentioned earlier, most of us will not be required to die a violent death to defend our Catholic Faith. However, there are times when we must “give up our lives” for Christ in a figurative manner. In today’s world, being a Catholic is not easy. We are often ridiculed and criticized for our beliefs. “All priests are child abusers…All the Church wants is your money…The Church needs to change with the times and allow birth control…Women should have the right to choose abortion, etc” How do we respond when these attacks take place? Do we respond in the way that Sts. Paul Miki and John the Baptist would have responded?
Even though it is difficult, we must remember God’s words in Psalm 27 (“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”) and the assurance of Jesus “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Mt 10:32-33)
Isn’t the answer clear?