The stories of the martyrs have always fascinated me. They have always made me question my own resolve and whether I would have had the same strength in the face of persecution that they demonstrated. I am "linked" to two extraordinary martyrs. I was given the name Lawrence when my parents brought me to the baptismal font. I was born on the feast day of St. Cecilia. As I grew up, I always marveled at their stories. Today, I have a "Wall of St. Lawrence" in my bedroom, seven framed pictures of St. Lawrence. I also have a statue of him that I cherish. I was able to acquire a small representation of St. Cecilia when her body was found in the catacombs of Rome. It is another cherished reminder of the strength of the martyrs. In addition, I have always found the Preface for the Martyrs to be one which really stirs my heart as we pray that God was able to transform the weak into the strong.
Today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles acts as a warning siren of the storm to come. Persecution began to rear its ugly head in Jerusalem. Historically, we know that this began around 70 A.D., immediately after the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Roman occupying forces. Ultimately, all of the disciples were martyred as they continued to preach the Gospel.
Persecution is in the news again. Pope Francis mentioned it in his weekly prayer in the Plaza before St. Peter's basilica. Christians in many countries of the Middle East are being driven from their homes. Many have been murdered, some of them as they gathered for Sunday worship. Christians in India and Pakistan have been victims as well.
Before the 13th century, martyrdom was equated with holiness, with sanctity. Almost all the Saints recognized by the Church were martyrs. The Christian settlements and towns coveted the relics of the martyrs and made them the patrons of their towns. This sometimes led to humorous (for us) stories. For instance, before the advent of St. Francis and St. Clare, the patron saint of Assisi was San Rufino (St. Rufinus). However, he had not died a martyr's death. No worry. The townspeople simply threw his body over a cliff and claimed that his enemies had killed him.
Religious intolerance can have no place in our faith. It simply cannot be reconciled with the Gospel message to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator