Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
My Dear Good People,
This week in the Church’s calendar we honor two very different people who were deported to the death camps during the Second World War: one because she was Jewish and a convert to Catholicism, the other because he was a Catholic Priest. Edith Stein was born in Germany into a non-observant Jewish family, and, after a desperate search for the truth, was baptized Catholic as an adult. Shortly thereafter she became a Carmelite cloistered nun, was arrested, deported to Auschwitz and eventually killed in the gas chamber there. St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Franciscan Priest, also deported to Auschwitz, who freely asked to take the place of a man who had been condemned to a starvation bunker. Father Kolbe was ‘granted’ the request and died thirteen days later after a lethal injection of carbolic acid. Both have been canonized by the Church and we remember them this week not only for the deaths but for their unshakable fidelity to the Name of Jesus during life.
There are countless martyrs, people who willingly gave up their lives for God, remembered throughout the Church year: men, women and children from nearly every continent and every race, cradle Catholics, and some who were ordered to execute Christians and were themselves converted and then executed after seeing the courage of their victims. There were martyrs in the early Church and throughout the Church’s history, and many are still being martyred today in places near and far by regimes who see the Church as a threat. I daresay all of us have at one time or another considered the possibility of being called upon to deny our faith and wondered whether or not we would have the courage to lay down our life for the love of God.
How can we be sure we would not give in to such pressure? We can’t know that, really. But we can be sure that if that time ever comes, we would be given the grace to remain faithful. Jesus promised that, and His Mother, our Blessed Mother, would be by our side, as she stood beneath the Cross of Jesus as He was dying for love of us.
Martyrdom is a remote possibility, it seems, but we are called to many daily deaths: times when we are faced with a difficult decision that might cost us, not our lives, but our reputation or perhaps our job. We might possibly even dare to risk our lives for the sake of another in a dire circumstance. If we make such a decision because we believe it’s the right thing to do, then we are standing up for the truth, and laying down what is precious to us for the love of God.
St. Edith and St. Maximilian didn’t face martyrdom in a single moment: they had chosen to live for God in small moments long before they were faced with the enormous challenge of giving everything for Him. And, if you would ask me, I would say that the daily cross of fidelity to the Will of God can sometimes be very costly. But oh, what glory awaits us! St. Therese of Lisieux, who died of tuberculosis in 1897 at the age of 24 and was canonized in 1925, wrote that we can become saints by doing small things with great love. Does that sound too easy? We know it’s not. But we are all called to be saints, and we are all given the grace to do so. Perhaps not martyrs, but saints for sure.
This week, let us ask St. Edith Stein (also known as Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) and St. Maximilian Kolbe for the courage to do always the more perfect thing, whether that means dying as a martyr at the hand of an enemy or living the day-to-day challenge of being a fervent Christian. Then we will all stand together gazing upon the radiant beauty of our God.
That’s our universal vocation, and our ultimate goal. I’ll pray for this for you, and I ask you to pray the same for me.
God bless you!