In the Gospel, the Sadducees try to Jesus to trick because they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the body — “that’s why they were sad, you see…” But Jesus answered them very clearly: God is not God of the dead, but of the living; to him [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob] are alive (Lk 20:38). Life after death is real, and belief in the resurrection is true.
We believe today because those who witnessed Christ’s actions and words — the Apostles and first disciples — have testified to them; and we believe because we’ve come to know for ourselves that our faith is true.
This handing-on of faith from one believer to another, from one generation to another, this is a key role of Catholic education. It’s what makes Catholic schools different from other schools. And as such, Catholic schools play a vital role in forming our youths to become saints. Since today is Catholic Education Sunday in Alberta, I’d like to talk a little bit about the role of Catholic schools.
Building on what our children learn at home, Catholic schools are called to foster, not only learning, but especially the development of virtue in our children, and to help them know, understand and practice the Catholic faith.
Catholic schools are called to help our children grow to become faith-filled holy disciples who are capable of discerning what is good from what is evil, what is right from what is wrong, and to have the courage to stand up for truth and justice. Catholic schools are called to help our children become holy witnesses to Jesus Christ and the hope and love he bears for us. In short, Catholic education is called to form our children to become martyrs.
Now before the images of suicide bombers cloud your imagination, let me explain what it means to be a martyr. A martyr isn’t one who straps a bomb to his chest in the hope of glory; that’s a terrorist and a murderer. A martyr isn’t one who takes his own life; a martyr is one who lays down his or her life for love of God and for the sake of others; for a person, and not an idea.
A martyr is one who, by the giving of him- or herself, bears witness to God’s love for all of humanity. A martyr, is one who witnesses with his or her life — and that’s the literal meaning of martyr: witness —, and that doesn’t always mean dying…
Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux considered herself a martyr because of the challenges she had in loving others, especially those who were difficult. She was a spiritual martyr, bleeding in her heart and not in her flesh. And so, martyrdom has many more forms than being killed for the faith.
Furthermore, martyrdom isn’t about ‘not being afraid’. Martyrdom is about overcoming
fear and not letting it control our response to love, truth and injustice. We heard about that in the first reading today, and we see that with all the saintly martyrs who offered their lives rather than turn away from God; we see that in the many men and women who laid down their lives to fight against oppression in the great wars of the past century; we see that right now in the Iraqi Catholics who continue to live their faith despite the dangers of death; we see that in those who are persecuted for speaking the truth about abortion and homosexual activity; we see that in the parents who weep for the conversion of their children; we see that in the young men and women who are ridiculed for choosing chastity and abstinence… We see that in all who choose right when it’s easier and safer to choose wrong.
Courage and faith, these are the hallmarks of martyrs, not lack of fear. And this courage comes from faith and from the hope we have of the resurrection. And this hope isn’t a dream or an unfounded optimism: it’s been assured and guaranteed by Christ’s own resurrection. As St. Paul tells us: if Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is vain; [we] are still in [our] sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (1 Cor 15:16-18), and we who believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting (Apostles’ Creed) are indeed the most pitiable of all (1 Cor 15:19).
Regardless of what kind of witness (martyrdom) we’re called upon to give as Christians — whether spiritual or bodily —, it’s our belief in Christ and our hope in the resurrection that allows us to stand up and make the sacrifices necessary for the sake of love, for the sake of truth, for the sake of justice. Because we know that our life on earth isn’t the end, we have the courage to look beyond it to the true life promised us in heaven.
This life of martyrdom began for us at Baptism when we were united to the crucified Christ. And we’re called to keep this union with Him, and to renew it daily by offering Him our struggles and our pains. But at Baptism we also began a life of resurrection when we were united to the risen Christ, but this resurrection isn’t yet complete; it’ll only come to us fully when Christ returns and our bodies are transformed to be like His. Until that day, we live by faith, hope and love, and by the Eucharist.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass, may the Eucharist we’re about to receive nourish us in body and in soul, strengthening us to be evermore faithful and courageous witnesses of Christ. Amen.