Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Blood of the Martyrs

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

Providentially, this event takes place on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration originating in the East… A month from now we will celebrate the seventeen-hundredth anniversary of the appearance to Constantine of the Chi-Rho, radiant in the symbolic night of his unbelief and accompanied by the words: “In this sign you will conquer!”… It seems to me that the Post-Synodal Exhortation can be read and understood in the light of this Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and more particularly in the light of the Chi-Rho, the two first letters of the Greek word “Christos”.
Reading it in this way leads to renewed appreciation of the identity of each baptized person and of the Church, and is at the same time a summons to witness in and through communion. Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate.
For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!

Address upon signing the post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, St. Paul’s Basilica, Harissa, Sept 14, 2012

Reflection – Once again (and I do hate to constantly rave about him like some star-struck fanboy), the Pope does it! In a few short sentences, written in language anyone can understand with relative ease, he sketches out the very essence and sum total of Christian life. Faith, hope, and love, in grounding our life in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, and from that grounding offering our life with him to the Father for the world.

He just puts it so very, very well. And he puts it so very, very well over and over again, and has done so all his life. When Pope Benedict dies, if he ends up being canonized (I vote yes to that!) he will surely be the patron saint of writers—he’s so very, very good at it.

Of course it bears reflecting that the document he is signing and the Christian community he is addressing are being called to live out this faith, hope, and love in the most difficult and extreme circumstances possible. There are many Christian martyrs in the Middle East today. Many others have fled their ancestral homelands in the face of growing violence and hatred against the Christian presence there. So his words about the cross and the resurrection being intrinsically joined resonate with particular intensity.

It is one thing to say this in the relative comfort and plenty of North America or Europe. We may have our problems in life, but being killed by a mob is not (usually, so far) one of them. I have never had to ‘flee’ anywhere, for any reason. We must, we really must pray for our brothers and sisters in places like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan (not in the Middle East, but very real persecution there, too).

And we must, we really must, come to grips with this same call to faith, hope, love, to laying our lives down through, with, and in Christ. Nobody is killing us in North America and Europe for our faith, yet. It could happen, you know. But meanwhile, even if we’re not dying for Christ, the call now is to live for him, to take very seriously the demands of the Gospel and commit our lives to those demands with intensity and purpose.
Otherwise, you know, nobody will believe us, nobody take us seriously. The blood of martyrs is the seedbed of Christians; even without literal martyrdom we can choose to ‘shed our blood’ by total dedication and commitment to the task of love and the path of the Gospel. I would suggest that there is no other way to proclaim Christ to the world, no other way for love to conquer and the Cross of Christ to be triumphant in our day.

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