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Martyrdom & Suffering


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The Price of Proclaiming the Truth

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The title of this conference could be changed by reading, “The Price of Proclaiming Christ.” The reason is obvious. Remember the dialogue between Jesus and the apostle Thomas. Thomas said to Him, “Lord we do not know where you are going and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Proclaiming the truth, therefore, means proclaiming Christ who is the Truth.


What is Truth?

Truth is conformity of mind and reality. Three kinds of conformity give rise to three kinds of truth. Illogical truth, the mind is in agreement with things outside the mind, either in assenting to what is or in denying what is not. Its opposite is error. In metaphysical truth, things conform with the mind. This is primary conformity, when something corresponds to the idea of its maker, and it is secondary conformity when something is intelligible and therefore true to anyone who knows it. In moral truth, what is said conforms to what is on one’s mind. This is truthfulness and its opposite is falsehood.

Jesus Christ is truth on all three levels. Christ is logical truth because, as God, He knows perfectly everything which exists. Within the Trinity, He knows Himself, He knows the Father, and He knows the Holy Spirit. Outside the Holy Trinity, He knows the created universe entirely, for the obvious reason that, with the Father and the Holy Spirit He made everything that we call the world. Christ is moral truth because whatever He has revealed is always in perfect conformity with what He has in mind.

No one has improved on the words of St. Augustine in his Confessions when he speaks to our Lord saying, “Because it was You who taught me, I believe; for You are the truth, and there is no other teacher of truth save You.”

That is why Cardinal Newman could say, “No truth can really exist external from Christianity,” or Chesterton could say, “The Catholic is much more certain about the fixed truths than about the fixed stars.”

However, all of this depends on believing that Jesus Christ is Incarnate Truth. Since Christ is the truth, He is also, as He told us the light of the world. He enlightens everyone who comes into this world. His followers are told to walk in this light so they may be free, and without this light all is darkness and spiritual night.

So we ask, “How is Jesus the Savior also, and necessarily our light?” This is not an unimportant question in our day when there is so much confusion among Catholics, including not a few bishops and priests.

If there was ever an age in the Church’s history when the faithful needed the light of Christ’s direction and guidance it is our age. Theories and theologies on every conceivable issue, conflicts and controversies on all sides - until the head reels with dizziness on even some of the most fundamental positions of Catholic Christianity. Surely today, if ever, we need Christ the truth and the light to save us from the fog of uncertainty that surrounds us on every side.

How is Christ the truth and the light of the believing soul? He is our truth and light because He has revealed to us, through the Church, those mysteries which until His time were hidden from the beginning of the world.

What are we saying? We are saying that the truth and light of Christ is the truth and light that is Christ. His revelation of Himself to us is the knowledge we cannot do without if we are to see what life is all about, what suffering is all about, what death is all about and what life after death is all about.


Proclaiming Christ the Truth

The Second Vatican Council opened up totally new vistas of the lay apostolate, from more effective Christian living in the apostolate of good example, to elaborate and maybe lifelong decisions to work for others in society.

Yet nothing much would happen in our lives, and our lives would not basically be changed or be renewed unless we are first convinced that the lay apostolate means being a true Christian. We are as good Christians and as true Christians as we are apostolic, which means as we are concerned for our neighbor’s spiritual welfare and not only interested in ourselves.

I would like to summarize what I wish to share with you by putting this conciliar message into a few easily remembered terms.

  • To be a true Christian means to love Jesus Christ.

  • To love Jesus Christ means to carry on the work He started in Palestine and for which He instituted the Church. This work is the salvation and sanctification of men and women - even at great cost to himself. After all that is why He was crucified on Calvary.

Consequently, we are as truly Christian as we are concerned for others, not only or mainly for their temporal welfare but especially for the life of their spirit, their knowledge and love and service of Jesus Christ to insure their eternal salvation.

Love of Christ. First of all, to be a true Christian means to love Jesus Christ. This needs re-emphasis. We hear so much nowadays about the Church being over-structured, being too institutional. After we sift through all the criticism which sometimes reaches a screaming pitch, we find there is some truth in the criticism. We Catholics dare not forget that the whole institutional structure of the hierarchy and laws, the practices of the sacraments, even the Mass and the Liturgy, are not ends in themselves. Their purpose is to lead us to a greater and greater love of Jesus Christ. The less I love Christ; I will hardly be motivated to share my faith with others. And to love Christ, I must come to know Him. This means intimate contact with Him, daily, and often during the day.

Notice, I say knowing Christ and not only knowing about Christ; the prepositional knowledge about Christ I can learn from books, but the personal knowledge of Christ that is the foundation of true love comes only from experience. I get this experience from communicating with our Lord:

  • thinking of Him;

  • speaking with Him;

  • sharing my innermost fears and joys with Him, not only at times of formal prayer but whenever (and it will happen often) He comes to my mind.

This is not mysticism; it is realism. My love of Christ will grow by leaps and bounds as I learn to cultivate the habit of dealing easily and intimately with my Savior who dwells by His grace in the depths of my soul. Intimate communication will foster love as sure as dry wood thrown on live embers will burst into flame.

The Work of Christ. Step number two is to convince ourselves that the work of Christ was only started by Him twenty centuries ago. He wants us to carry on what He began, to save souls from sin and their own destruction, and prepare them for true happiness in this life and in the life to come.

The more we look at it, the clearer this becomes. Christ lived visibly on earth only a short time, less than forty years. He preached and taught for a still shorter time, less than three years. He expressly gathered around Him a group of men and women (notice both genders) to train them for carrying on His work of redemption.

Through the centuries, believing men and women have understood this. At great sacrifice to themselves, they kept alive the faith through persecution and suffering; through ridicule and indifference, to give the faith to us. We are now Christians only because of the self-sacrifice of our forbearers:

  • Saintly father and mother. In my own case, a widowed mother working nights cleaning office buildings to give her only son a Catholic education; then permitting him to leave her alone to enter the Society of Jesus.

  • Teachers and priests, saints and martyrs down through the centuries.

Without dwelling on a subject as vast as the Church’s history, the lesson is clear. The work that Christ started He wants His followers to carry on. It will be carried on only to which they are willing to pay something of the price He paid to teach us the means of salvation.

I have been around all parts of the country and have studied and lectured in South America, Europe and Asia. One strong impression has been left on me:

  • like priest, like people;

  • like parents, like children;

  • like leaders, like community.

Where priests are zealous, the parishioners are strong in their allegiance to Christ.

Where parents put the teaching of Christ first, their children are strong in their religious faith and practice.

Where the lay leadership is courageous in proclaiming the Christian way of life, the community is strongly Christian.


The Price We Have to Pay

All that we have said so far is a prelude to the main focus of this conference. What is the price we have to pay for proclaiming Jesus Christ as Incarnate Truth? The price is high. It can be summarized in the three verses of the eighth Beatitude.

  • Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  • Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and, speaking falsely say all manner of evil against you, for my sake. Rejoice and exalt, because your reward is great in heaven; for so do they persecute the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).

The key word in the eighth Beatitude is the word “prophets.” The biblical term for prophet is nabi. It means someone who speaks, acts, or writes under the extraordinary influence of grace to make known the mind and will of God.

Strange to say, Jesus is telling us to proclaim Him to others as the prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed the one true God. No less than the prophets of old had to pay dearly for proclaiming the truth, so we Christians must be ready to pay even more dearly for proclaiming the Incarnate Truth who is Jesus Christ.

Just before His ascension into heaven, He told His disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and even to the very ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As I never tire telling people, the original Greek of the Acts of the Apostles reads “you shall be my martyrs.”

That is the price that we must expect to pay for proclaiming the truth, who is Jesus Christ. This is the verdict of two thousand years of Christian history. No less than the Church was founded on Calvary the moment Christ died on the cross; so the Church has grown and developed only through the cross.

How many times we may have heard the expression, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” The secret is to believe that this is the only way that authentic Christianity, which is the Roman Catholic Church, can be propagated effectively.

I make no apologies for quoting three martyrs of the early Church. Their testimony deserves to be memorized.

  • St. Ignatius of Antioch was devoured by wild beasts in 107 A.D. He wrote seven letters on his way to martyrdom in Rome. They are precious classics in witnessing to the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. Ignatius is writing to the Romans, “fire and cross and battling with wild beasts, their clawing and tearing, the breaking of bones and mangling of members, the grinding of my whole body, the wicked torments of the devil – let them assail me, so long as I get to Jesus Christ.”

  • St. Justin died a martyr’s death in 150 A. D. He is writing to a pagan who was hostile to Christianity. Says Justin, “To all our persecutors we say: ‘you are our brethren; apprehend not us but rather the truth of God.’ But when neither you nor they will listen to us, what you do only in your power will force us to deny Christ; we resist you and prefer to endure death, confident that God will give us all the blessings which He promised through Christ.”

We have a record of the dialogue between Roman prefect Rusticus, and Justin whom he was persuading to sacrifice to the gods. Said Justin, “Nobody in his senses gives up truth for falsehood.” To which Rusticus replied, “If you don’t do as I tell you, you will be tortured without mercy.” Answered Justin, “We ask nothing better than to suffer for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and so to be saved. If we do this we can stand confidently and quietly before the fearful judgement-seat of that same God and Savior, when as we believe the whole world will pass away.”

Justin, along with his companions, was beheaded. He was a layman who wrote the first extensive defense of the true faith in the history of Christianity.

  • St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in Africa died in 258 A.D. Like Ignatius of Antioch, Cyprian was a staunch defender of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Roman primacy. In one of his many letters, he wrote, “The Lord has willed that we should even rejoice over persecutions because, when persecutions occur then the faith is crowned. God’s soldiers are put to the test and heaven is opened to martyrs. We have not enlisted in an army merely to think of peace and to decline battle, seeing that the Lord, the master of humility, endurance and suffering, has taken the first place in the conflict. He was the first to do what He taught us to do. He was the first to endure for us in order to inspire us to endure for Him.”

Like St. Justin, St. Cyprian was condemned to death by the sword because he refused to obey the pagan laws which demanded offering sacrifice to the gods. When the death sentence was proclaimed, Cyprian cried out, “Thanks be to God.”

So the history of Christianity has gone on over the centuries. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that the Church needs more than men, women, and even children who are ready to suffer and die for proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ.


Conclusion

I would like to share with you the single most important lesson I have learned in my fifty years in the priesthood. What is that lesson? In one sentence, I have learned with St. Paul that there is nothing in life worth living for except to know and proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

He is the crucified Christ who is at once our deepest mystery of faith, our one hope for existence, and our highest motive for love. Jesus Christ crucified is our deepest mystery of faith. After everything else we believe He is identified, after all the truths are analyzed, what is the one unfathomable mystery on which everything else we believe finally depends? It is Jesus Christ crucified.

We believe that the infinite God became man. Why? In order to suffer and die for us on the cross.

We believe there must be a deep meaning to the cross. Why? Because God the Creator became one of His own creatures in order to be able to be crucified.

  • Who is our hope?

  • In whom can we finally trust? In Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

  • Jesus Christ crucified is our highest motive for love.

  • God who was scourged and crowned with thorns and nailed to the cross, He died on the cross because He loved us.

  • For the love of those whom God has put into our lives: difficult people, unkind people, thoughtless people.

  • Why? So that by loving them we might proclaim to them our love for Jesus crucified.

Lord Jesus Christ, you died on your cross out of love for me. Give me the grace to die on my cross because I have proclaimed you, the Incarnate Truth, to everyone who enters my life. Amen.

Copyright © 1999 Inter Mirifica






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