Pope Francis & Youth Week 3: Be Prepared for Martyrdom

(Homily for Nineteenth Ordinary Sunday Year C)

Message: Like Jesus, Pope Francis tells to be prepared, be prepared for martyrdom, be ready to surrender all to Jesus.

This is my third week in Krakow. I have the blessing of attending World Youth Day. Undoubtedly this is the last opportunity so I am spending an extra week in Krakow. I'll be returning to the parish for Rosie Cotton's first birthday. Meanwhile I offer some thoughts on this Sunday's theme: Be Prepared. Be prepared for Martyrdom. During World Youth Day we had the opportunity to visit the sites of modern martyrs: St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Edith Stein and Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko.

Pope Francis has often reflected on martyrdom. He said this regarding the Central American martyr, Archbishop Oscar Romero:

"Each Christian ought to be ready to give his life for the faith. A martyr is not born. It's a grace that the Lord allows, and that in a way concerns every baptized person." Quoting a phrase of Blessed Oscar Romero, the Pope said that "We must be willing to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not give us this honor."

"To give one's life doesn't only consist of being killed," he said, but rather "to give one's life, to have the spirit of a martyrdom, is to surrender it in duty, in silence, in prayer, in the fulfillment of duty; in this silence of everyday life; to give one's life little by little."

Jesus tells us, "Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." In saying this Jesus is giving us advanced warning. Before considering the warning, we should note that the saying is very hopeful. No matter what you and I have done, no what condition we are in right now, we can still make a new beginning. We can at least get started, ask God's help to put things in order. Jesus tells us that the important thing is what we are doing the moment he returns.

We might ask why that one moment is so important. Early Christian writers used to compare our lives to a potter forming clay. While the clay is moist it can take any form, but when you put it in the oven it retains its shape forever. Death is the fire which fixes us eternally - either with hearts open to receive Jesus or backs turned on him.

In the Hail Mary, we ask Our Blessed Mother to pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Those are the two moments that matter. Yesterday is gone; tomorrow may never come. Today is what matters. How small our arguments and our battles will be when Jesus comes for us! So ask God's help to put aside those quarrels. And to have a clear mind - to not abuse alcohol or drugs or sex.

Before I set out on a trip I try to get rest, to get my mind clear. But I have had the experience of starting to doze. But when I heard some gravel under my tire, believe me, I woke up. That's what Jesus is telling us: wake up, be alert. This life is serious.

We can easily forget how serious this life is. We can start thinking our lives are random, a kind of cosmic accident. Or that we will always have a second chance, so why worry? Some people believe in reincarnation, not because it makes a lot of sense, but because it seems to offer repeated chances to get it right.* Jesus brushes that thinking aside. This life is serious and there are four final things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.** The famous theologian, Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar said, "It is indispensable that every individual Christian be confronted, in the greatest seriousness, with the possibility of his becoming lost."

Some people say that if we focus on the afterlife - heaven and hell - we neglect this world. But, perhaps surprisingly, it's just the opposite. People who focus on eternity are often the ones who do the most in this world. Think about Mother Teresa. Who did more than her to help the outcast?

Mother Teresa illustrates that those who focus on receiving Jesus will do good for people here on earth. The paradox applies not only to individuals, but to institutions. The institutions that we most value - for example, the hospital and the university - they were founded (back in the Middle Ages) by people with deep Christian faith.

In spite of our many sins, weaknesses and failures, God has done good things through those who strove to "be prepared" to Jesus' return. Pope Francis tells to be prepared for martyrdom, to surrender to Jesus.

Maybe you have heard of the book "Atlas Shrugged." It posits that, like Atlas, a small number of key people hold up our world. An interesting premise, but Ayn Rand got it wrong. It's not the materially rich who hold up our society, but those rich in the things of God. Those who in a hidden way give themselves to Christ, who strive to put their lives in order. (cf. Gen 18:32) To put Christ above quarrels, to avoid mind-numbing drugs - including gambling and pornography. Wake up, says Jesus. Our world depends on those who live his word: "Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

Like Jesus, Pope Francis tells to be prepared, be prepared for martyrdom, be ready to surrender all to Jesus. "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival." Amen.


*In his important book, Dangers to the Faith: Recognizing Catholicismís 21st Century Opponents, Al Kresta discusses reincarnation. Mentioning various aspects of Eastern thought, he says, "For space considerations, I'll drill down on reincarnation because 25 percent of Americans, including Christians, accept it..."

**The Catechism contains an unequivocal statement about what happens at the moment of death:

Death is the end of man's earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When "the single course of our earthly life" is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: "It is appointed for men to die once." There is no "reincarnation" after death. (#1013)

Homilies related to Pope Francis & World Youth Day:

July 24, 2016: Pope Francis & Youth Week 1: Faith & the Possibility of Forgiveness
July 31, 2016: Pope Francis & Youth Week 2: Stop Being Wishy-Washy
August 6, 2016: Pope Francis & Youth Week 3: Be Prepared for Martyrdom

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Nineteenth Sunday, Year C):

2013: Be Prepared
2010: Hour Least Expected
2007: Salvation and Damnation
2004: No Hurry
2001: Life Is Unfair
1998: Love is Strong as Death

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