Sometimes in the past a friend of mine sent me this text message: “God never promised us an easy journey in life, only safe arrival.” I think this is true because Jesus in today’s gospel says that our life in this world is not an easy one. We should expect thorns in the forms of persecutions, sufferings and hardships; we should learn to bear our crosses and find more meanings in difficulties. But we should not worry because God will provide us the means.
He says: “By patient endurance you will save your lives.” Are we ready to suffer and to shed blood until the end, if necessary, for our faith? It is because Christianity is a religion of martyrdom. Christianity is a religion of the cross. Jesus willingly shed His blood for our sake and He calls us to be martyrs too. The word martyr in Greek means ‘witness.’ Some theologians in the past said something about being a witness like Tertullian and others. Tertullian said: “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” Cyprian also said: “When persecution comes, God’s soldiers are put to the test, and heaven is open to martyrs. We have not enlisted in an army to think of peace and to decline battle, for we see that the Lord has taken first place in the conflict.” Augustine wrote: “The martyrs were bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered and they multiplied!”
God may call some of us to be martyrs. But for most of us our call is to be dry martyrs who bear testimony to the joy of the gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord; to witness to the joy, truth and freedom of the gospel; by our life, and real-life testimony. What attracts others to the gospel? They are attracted to the Gospel and to Christianity when they see us: Christians love their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless.
What are the marks of a true witness of Christ? David Watson in his, Called & Committed: World-Changing Discipleship (1982 pp. 142-143) said that the marks of a true witness are:
- A witness must have a first-hand experience of Christ. Hearsay is not acceptable in a court of law as well as in the court of this world’s opinion. People will listen only to what we have personally seen and heard.
- A witness must be able to express himself verbally. We may witness effectively through our lives, our work, our relationships, our attitudes, our suffering and even our death, yet we must still “be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you.” We must do so “with gentleness and respect,” and with the integrity of our lives demonstrating the truth of our words.
- A witness will have confidence in the power of God. He relies on the power of the message of Christ and him crucified, and the power of the Holy Spirit. He knows that God can break through any defenses, and change any heart. This confidence will not be brash, but humble and sensitive, marked by much prayer. He knows that without God he can do nothing, but that with God all things are possible.
- A witness will have compassion for the spiritually lost. He will care for them as individuals who matter deeply to God: made in his image, redeemed by his Son and to be indwelt by his Spirit.
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OTHER HOMILY SOURCES:
One day I received a text message from a friend. The message is: “”God never promised us an easy journey in life, only safe arrival.” I did not know if my friend had any idea about the difficulties I was experiencing in my work but the message was very timely and it just struck me from the heart.
We know that everybody experiences difficulties in life. But can our faith make a difference? I believe that what we can offer is hope. We Christians are people of hope. I remember one of our professors saying that if there is no hope there is no future, then what is the point of life? Indeed our life has meaning because of our hope rooted in Jesus Christ.
Even though Jesus did not promise an easy journey, he assured us a safe arrival only if we hold on to Him. We should not wallow in the problems and trials of life. Rather we should focus our attention on the assurance of Jesus that not a single hair of our head will perish. St. Paul proved this when he said in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Trial of every sort come to us, will perish but we are not discouraged. We are left without answer, but do not despair, persecuted but not abandoned, knocked down but not crushed.”
We hold on to our hope in Jesus Christ that we will be able to stand firm, steadfast and enduring amidst the tribulations of life. (Jerome S. Montesclaros, SVD Bible Diary 2002)
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“By patient endurance you will save your lives.” Are you ready to suffer and to shed your blood, of necessary, for your faith? Christianity is a religion of the cross; it is a religion of martyrdom. Jesus willingly shed his blood for our sake and he calls us to be martyrs. The word martyr in Greek means witness. The Book of Revelation says that, “Jesus was the faithful witness…who freed us from our sins by his blood,” (1:5). Tertullian, a 2nd century lawyer who converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die, exclaimed: “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” Their blood is the seed of new Christians, the seed of the Church. The 3rd century Bishop, Cyprian, said: “when persecution comes, God’s soldiers are put to the test, and heaven is open to martyrs. We have not enlisted in an army to think of peace and to decline battle, for we see that the Lord has taken first place in the conflict.”.” Saint Augustine wrote: “the martyrs are bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered – and the multiplied!” Why is this the case? The martyrs witnessed to the joy, truth and freedom of the gospel by their life, their testimony, and by their blood. Are you also eager to witness to the joy and freedom of the gospel? Think about it. (Fr. Louie Punzalan, SVD Bible Diary 2004)
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It is said that “Christian life is not a bed of roses.” But come to think of it, the positive version is true as well. Christian life is a bed of roses. But not one that implies ease and comfort. Roses have thorns too signifying the possibilities of risk, blood-letting and pain. A rose is a rose because of its petaled beauty and its thorns. Both make it beautiful and complete.
Those who follow the Lord should expect thorns in the forms of persecutions, sufferings and hardships as He reveals in today’s gospel. But those exactly are the reasons why following Him is a “rosy” and wise decision, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that…adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” Following him is following a path secure and safe, “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”
We are also asked to persevere because Christian life is not how you run fast but how you carry on the journey. For those who keep up the struggle, “perseverance will secure your lives.”
I may be laughed at but not discouraged, I may be persecuted but not disheartened and I may be beaten up but not surrender. (Fr. Ferdinand D. Resuena, SVD Bible Diary 2006)
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“Be thankful with what you have, rather than lose your job and be sent back to the Philippines.” This is what I often tell my countrymen when they complain of work fatigue.
Most Filipinos here in Korea are engaged in Triple D jobs which means: Dirt, Difficult and Dangerous. They have endured everything because of love for their family.
A story is told about a group of devout people who went on pilgrimage to heaven. While on pilgrimage they carried individual crosses along. The going was rough and there was much moaning and groaning. One of the pilgrims found his cross just too heavy to carry, so he cut off a part and shortened it.
After days of walking, the pilgrims approached the promised land of God’s presence. But they still had one obstacle to overcome. Between them and heaven was yawning abyss. How could they get to the other side? Someone thought that they could use their crosses as bridge. Indeed their crosses were just the right length to bridge the gap except the one who shortened his cross to make it lighter.
Life is difficult. The Lord Himself has said our life in this world is not easy, so we should learn to bear our crosses. No shortcuts!
There are times when we are tempted to do “dirty” work in order to have palatial houses, expensive cars, fashionable clothes. In high school, I recall the remarks of our school janitor: “I don’t mind being a janitor because the work is respectable. I may not smell good but I make the CR clean and sweet-smelling.”
Life is surely difficult but it does not need to be dirty. When you choose a dirty life, your next life is in danger. That is why Jesus gives us a very good advice, “By patient endurance you will save your lives.” (Fr. Emmanuel Ferrer, SVD Bible Diary 2007)
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“…And they will put some of you to death.” I write this reflection a few days after Fr. Fransiskus Madhu, a fellow SVD missionary, an Indonesian, was shot to death in a remote barangay in the hinterlands of Kalinga-Apayao. It was a brutal reminder that the danger of death is something a missionary should be prepared for. Taking risks to life and limb is, for the missionary, part of the territory.
For many of us, the death of Fr. Fransiskus was senseless. Some missionaries reacted by proposing that the SVD should abandon the particular place because of its history of violence, especially to missionaries. Yet to do so would be essentially surrendering to the forces of evil. We find ourselves with no choice but to keep on proclaiming the gospel, no matter what it takes. We could only remind ourselves of the early Christian martyrs who gave their lives because of the faith. Because of what they did, the Church flourished, as it were a plant nourished by the life-giving blood of the martyrs. To offer one’s life for the Kingdom is one very convincing act of faith that cannot be easily ignored. For many in the past, it was the one single act that became the turning point for conversion. It is truly an imitation of Christ –no greater love than there is when one lays down his life for his friends.
For me personally, it reminded me of the days when I was a parish priest of Santa Teresa in Occidental Mindoro. Many times we had to go by boat to the remote barangays. Along the way, we would suddenly encounter inclement weather and big waves. It can be a terrifying experience. I remember that in those times, I would sing to myself the song, ‘Be Not Afraid.’ I would also remind myself very often that I am just doing God’s work and that surely, God would not let his worker down. Hence, putting myself in dangerous situations of life-threatening circumstances is an act of faith in God who will take care of His own. Death would not be a frightful prospect. (Fr. Gil Alejandria, SVD Bible Diary 2008)
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To be persecuted in the name of Christ is a special grace. Persecution is a consequence of following Christ who was persecuted and put to death on the cross for our redemption. Persecution can be direct or indirect. Directly, worldly power and authority suppresses the practice of the Christian faith through many forms of expression, including torture and death. Indirectly, worldly values and criticisms compel Christians to abandon the practice of the faith. Where direct persecution is the most common, as in the martyrdom of many Christians during the time of early church, indirect persecution occurs every day in almost all areas of human life.
In a government office, an employer was criticized for taking his job too seriously. While he attends to his tasks with painstaking care, others merely waited for the bundy clock to strike at 5:00PM. For his honest and faithful work, he was isolated from the rest of the employees. Notwithstanding the harsh remarks and reactions of his co-employees, he kept on doing his work as best as he could. One employee challenged him: “What are you trying to prove?” in a humble tone, he replied, “If I maybe offending you, I’m so sorry. But this is who I am and I’m happy with my work.”
Jesus in the gospel tells us that persecution is an opportunity to give authentic witnessing to Christ Jesus. he tells us not to prepare any defense for He Himself will give a wisdom that adversaries cannot refute. Persecution, then, provides good Christians to experience the Lord’s wisdom. Jesus, in the final analysis, invites all Christians to embrace the difficulties of being challenged or persecuted for living their faith in Him. (Fr. Fred Saniel, SVD Bible Diary 2009)
Fr. Joseph Benitez
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By your perseverance you will secure your lives. My parents, teachers, spiritual directors, and close friends have always advised me that, to succeed, I must persevere. Period. No excuses, no alibis, no other way, no way out but through perseverance.
The best things in life are bought with great pain and perseverance. No guts, no glory! No pain, no gain! No cross, no resurrection! These are all translated into one word: PERSEVERANCE.