Holding Fast to Your Faith

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

St. Paul Miki & Companions

Heb 12: 4-7, 11-15; Mark 6:1-6

Deacon Larry Brockman

What an opening shot that was in our first reading: “Brothers and Sisters:  In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.”  What a strong message that was for the faithful.   

And in fact, in Paul’s day, there were many who did suffer terribly for their faith; many who shed their blood.  Yesterday, we heard about St. Agatha.  Because she rejected the advances of the Roman Leader in Sicily, she was tortured mercilessly; they even cut off her breasts!  But when they tried to burn her at the stake, an earthquake frightened off the Romans, and legend has it that St. Agatha died in prison.  I read recently that as many as 1 out of every 100 Christians in the first couple of centuries were martyred for their faith.   

Today is the feast of St. Paul Miki and companions.  Paul Miki was one of 25 Christians crucified on a hill above Nagasaki Japan in the late 16th century following missionary efforts by Jesuits and Franciscans to convert the people of Japan.  All 25 were put to death just because they preached Christ.  The Japanese wanted to root out the Christian movement in its infancy in Japan.   

One would think that such a brutal campaign would have ended it; but when Christian missionaries returned to Japan some 200 years later, they found over 1000 Christians there- such strength of Faith.   

How about you and me?   We live in an age when our Christian Faith is constantly being persecuted.  Dozens of people have been killed by the sword in Iraq and Syria and Egypt just because they are Christian.  Closer to home, people are being arrested and sued for following their consciences on Christian doctrine.  And there are people, some even claiming to be “Catholic”, defending the “right to choose” to abort a baby, and even to kill a newborn baby on the delivery table.  They are popping corks and celebrating the passage of laws in New York that allow just that. 

How can we live our lives so that it makes a difference in such a messed-up world?  Do we have to shed our blood to be saved?  We are just citizens, not politicians or activists, right.   

Well, we can certainly express ourselves to our elected officials; and we can vote.  But you know, there is an even better way; one which really demonstrates our faith but isn’t so drastic.  It is one that Paul mentions to the Hebrews this morning.  Because Paul also says this to the Hebrews: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”   

First peace.  Yes, we can all be civil to each other and be peacemakers.  But also “For that holiness without which no one will see the Lord!”  Ah, now that is much more difficult- to live lives of holiness so that everyone sees the Lord in us.  We are challenged to live that way every day by acting civil to our neighbors; showing love and respect in our families; worshipping the Lord and not secular things on the Sabbath; and giving of our time, talent, and treasure to help someone in need.  Basically, our kindness must be ever present on behalf of the Lord, while all the time we hold fast to what our faith is when we are challenged.   

And when is our faith challenged?  When others want us to gossip or gang up on someone; when others talk about the right to choose versus the right to life and we sit by idly; when we are affronted by immoral and objectionable material in the media and say nothing; and when an activity interferes with the practice of our faith but we do it any way.    Doing the right things in these situations are ways we can “see to it that no one is deprived of grace”; and that “no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many are defiled”.   

Each of us has the opportunity to win the struggle against sin.  For some, holding fast to their faith means shedding blood.  For all, holding fast to the faith is what it’s all about. 

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