Bottom line: The blood of Spanish martyrs should inspire us. It points to the blood of Jesus. This Sunday we pray, "May his blood be upon us."
Welcome to Holy Week. We have just listened to St. Matthew's account of Jesus' Passion. As a way of approaching the suffering of Jesus, I would like to give an example from the Spanish martyrs.
I don't want to get into the complexity of the Spanish Civil War, which broke out seventy-five years ago.* Priests, as you might imagine, landed on both sides of the conflict - but most of course tried to stay above politics and do their best to serve people in the midst of a terrible situation. During the three year war, many priests were executed, mainly by government forces. The statistics are hard to imagine: 6,832 priests - including 13 bishops.** After extensive investigation, 498 were beatified a few years ago.
I'd like to tell you about one of the martyrs. He was not yet a priest, but a 22-year-old seminarian named Ramon Lila. Gifted with a wonderful mind, Ramon remembered everything that he read. He had mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and was studying English and German. He wrote poetry in Castilian, Latin and Catalan, and was so enamoured of the liturgy that, even though he was not obliged to do so, he recited the whole breviary. On August 10, 1936, Ramon wrote this letter to his mother, grandmother and brothers:
"We've been in this jail since July 20th. The whole community is here: 60 just individuals. Eight days ago they shot our reverend Father Superior and some other Fathers. Happy they, and happy we who will follow them. I wouldn't exchange my jail for the gift of working miracles, nor my martyrdom for the apostolate, which has been my life's dream." (see Claretian Martyrs of Barbastro by by Gabriel Campo Villegas)
Hoping to win the youth to their side, the guards offered Ramon (and others) the possibility of escape. They held firm - and on August 15, the guards led Ramon and forty others out of the prison. We do not know Ramon's last words, but a bishop spoke for all the martyrs. Facing the firing squad, he said,
"Do you not believe in heaven? Heaven exists, my sons! Do you not believe in Hell? Hell exists, my sons! You can kill me: my body I leave behind, but my soul will rise to Heaven. I forgive you and in Heaven I will pray for you."***
For us as Christian, the blood of martyrs is precious. It is joined to the blood of Jesus, which brings forgiveness of sins.
This Sunday we hear people say, "May his blood be upon us." As Pope Benedict pointed out in his book on Jesus of Nazareth, "The blood of Jesus speaks a different language from the blood of Abel. (Heb 12:21) It does not cry out for vengeance and punishment," the pope said, "It brings reconciliation."
I don't know about you, but I want the blood of Jesus upon me. Unlike Ramon Lila, I do not desire martyrdom. (I am afraid I would be a terrible coward.) But I consider that young man's blood precious because he offered it in union with Christ. The blood of Spanish martyrs should inspire us. It points to the blood of Jesus. This Sunday we pray, "May his blood be upon us." Amen.
*For a concise summary of some of the complexities, read Spain, a Unique History by University of Wisconsin professor Stanley Payne. He asks these questions: "A Republic...Without Democrats?" (ch. 9) and "Who Was Responsible? - Origins of the Civil War of 1936" (ch 10). Also he address the relationship of Madrid and Moscow (ch 11) and asks, whether the Spanish Civil War was the "Last Episode of World War I or the Opening Round of World War II?" (ch 12).
**Statistic from Spain During World War II by Wayne T. Bowen. University of Wisconsin professor, Stanley Payne wrote that this respresents "The most extensive and violent persecution of Catholicism in Western history, in some ways even more intense that that of the French Revolution." (Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany and World War II
***Quoted by Warren Carrol, Ph.D., in The Last Crusade, Spain: 1936, p. 107. For an analysis of the current situation in Spain, see Spanish Showdown by George Weigel.
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