Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Collins on
Since the crucifixion of Jesus, Christians have been called to follow their Lord along the path of Calvary to the glory of the resurrection. During his earthly ministry he challenged his disciples: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) They are called to follow in the footsteps of their master who is the Light “which shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
The cathedral is illuminated in red this evening, as are churches and other buildings throughout the world, to remind us of the blood of martyrs which is the seed of the Church, blood which is shed more in these days than in any other time in history, by faithful disciples of Jesus who follow him through the Calvary of persecution.
It has ever been so, from the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr, recalled in the Acts of the Apostles. The Book of the Apocalypse describes the sufferings of those who were faithful to Jesus in the face of the alien power of the Roman Empire, who would say not “Caesar is Lord.” but “Jesus is Lord”. So many martyrs down through history, an inspiration for us, but also rebuke to us, who live too comfortably in this society in which brute persecution is replaced by more subtle suppression of Christian witness, and by mockery of faith.
The sacred scriptures read this evening guide us as we confront a world in which our brothers and sisters in Christ are being killed, or imprisoned, or forced to flee their beloved homelands, simply because they profess with heart and voice: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that his disciples must be prepared to experience what he experienced, if they are faithful to him in an alien and hostile world:
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
and I have chosen you out of the world,
the world hates you.
Remember the word I spoke to you,
‘No slave is greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,
because they do not know the one who sent me.”
Saint Paul, who himself won the palm of martyrdom in Rome, reminds the Christians of that capital of empire that they will suffer, but that no earthly torments can separate them from the Lord in whom they have their life:
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
As it is written:
For your sake we are being slain all the day;
we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Whether we experience persecution, as so many of our brothers and sisters do throughout the world, or whether we experience the milder suffering of social rejection and intimidation, as we do in our society, this is the path to Calvary on which we are strengthened by our faith. We need to allow suffering to burn off the bonds of self-sufficiency, and lead us to realize that in Christ is our strength, for he is Lord of all. Nothing will separate us from the “love of God in Christ Jesus Our Lord.” In a few days this reality will be celebrated in some of our churches in the Feast of Christ the King.
We have a wide perspective this evening, as we call to mind the persecution of Christians throughout the whole world: few realize that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world, by far. But our faith calls us to an even wider perspective, one that encompasses not just this earthly valley of tears through which we are passing, but also the heavenly courts that lie ahead of us – when we will be at peace in the home of the Father, but also the realm that even now is the touchstone of reality. Both the Letter to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse, especially the Apocalypse, were written to give hope to persecuted Christians, who through those sacred pages could glimpse the divine realm, the heavenly city of Jerusalem, of which we are citizens even as we are temporarily stranded in Babylon the Great.
It has ever been so: the blood of martyrs has always been the seed of the Church. But in the last century, especially after the Armenian genocide, attacks on Christians have intensified. Yes, this is a time of massive persecution – especially in the Middle East where Christians are being driven from the places they have called home for two thousand years- but in also in Africa, and India, and China, and in many other places throughout the world. But in Canada it is as if this were not happening. A blanket of silence has descended, and the cries of our brothers and sisters in Christ are not heard.
This evening we call on our fellow citizens to acknowledge the cry of the martyrs, and we reach out to them in prayer and solidarity. When they must flee their homelands, we offer them refuge, but they should not be forced to flee their homelands. This evil of persecution must stop, and one small step towards that goal is for the light of truth to be shone upon their plight. Deeds of evil are done in darkness, and we must shed light upon this evil.
Beyond the public and political aspects of this, we need to send them material help, ad this is done especially through Aid to the Church in Need and through the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. They deserve our financial support, and assistance in any way, as does the Office of Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto, and other similar agencies.
And most importantly, we are with our brothers and sisters in the solidarity of prayer. Through that we reach out in supplication to the Lord for them. And we are drawn closer to one another, as the divisions between Christians are healed by what Pope Francis calls the “ecumenism of blood”. In the last century some of the earliest steps towards healing the wound of Christian disunity were taken when Christians from different communities suffered equally under Hitler, and were drawn closer to God and to one another in that furnace of suffering.
This evening we pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world, and we pray that we may be inspired by them to live with Christian integrity.