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Korean Martyrs vs Hell

Do you ever wonder what it would be like if things were like how they “used to be?”  We imagine that back in the day our American culture was not so hostile to Christianity.  The Catholic churches were full and everyone went to mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.  Whether or not Christianity in the US was really as alive as many think it was is a topic for a different article.

I want to focus on our reality now.  We definitely live in a culture hostile to Christianity as a religion.  Christians are bombarded with false accusations of bigotry, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy.  Some of these criticisms are accurate.  Most are not.

There definitely is a gap between what Christianity is and what many think Christianity is.  A wise bishop once said that there are not more than a hundred people in the world who hate the Catholic Church.  But there are millions who hate what they think is the Catholic Church, but is not.

Now our response should not entail a pity party.  Many great thinkers and writers have commented on the hostility and confusion surrounding religion in general and Christianity in particular.  Sometimes we use this to feel sorry for ourselves and become defensive in the face of attack.

The truth is, we have a mission.  We are sent by our Lord Jesus Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the nations.  Hostile, ignorant, and confused people are included in these nations.  Many of them will not accept the Gospel no matter how we proclaim it.  In Luke 7 Jesus describes those who do not listen to his message no matter what:

                                                                    For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine; and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of man has come eating and drinking;                                                                             and you say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”1

This constitutes a simple rejection of our message.  Yet, for some, rejection of the message is not enough.  Some want to kill the message.  We see this with the Jewish leadership, such as the pharisees and chief priests.  They were directly responsible for handing Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified.

Today, Christians are literally being handed over to death all throughout the world.  The pharisees and chief priests have been replaced by Communist dictators and Islamic terrorists.  Christians are killed by atheistic secularists on one side and religious radicals on the other.

How do we respond?

The Korean martyrs Sts. Andrew Kim and companions provide us an example.  We celebrate their memorial on September 20.  These martyrs, canonized in 1984 by Pope John Paul II, stood with great courage and love before the threat of death in 19th century Korea.

The Korean government threw St. Andrew Kim, the first native Korean to be ordained a priest, into prison.  How did he respond?  Not with complaints nor with self-pity.  He responded by writing a letter of encouragement and thanksgiving to his fellow Korean Catholics.

He recognized three things in this letter, which can be read in the Office of Readings for September 20, in the Proper of Saints.

First, that persecuted Christians follow the example of their founder, Jesus.  Jesus, who IS the Gospel message, was killed:

Dearest brothers and sisters: when he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church.

Second, that persecuted Christians, by bearing their sufferings without compromising their mission as disciples, actually advance that mission:

Now he gives it (the Church) increase through the sufferings of his faithful.

Third, that the powers of hell which work through these persecutions will not prevail against the Church:

Hold fast, then, to the will of God and with all your heart fight the good fight under the leadership of Jesus; conquer again the diabolical power of this world that Christ has already vanquished.

If the Korean martyrs held this attitude in the face of death, what should be ours in the face of cultural persecution?

We should respond first by reflecting on the fact that God allows these persecutions so that we may serve as humble, courageous, and lovKorean_martyrsing witnesses in a world that badly needs them.

Second, we should encourage each other, just like Fr. Andrew Kim, recognizing that we do not really fight other people, but the forces of hell trying to steal as many souls as possible.

Third, we should look at the enemies of the Church not with hostility.  Rather, we should look at them with the eyes of Christ crucified, who said, “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”  At the moment of his death he said, “I thirst.”  He thirsted for our salvation.

Let us thirst for the salvation of others.  Let us recognize our own sufferings in the name of our Lord as instruments of satisfying the thirst of our Crucified Lord, against whom the powers of hell will not triumph but have already been defeated.  Therefore, we look past the superficiality of our sufferings and into the deeper victory of the Christian.

  1. Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Lk 7:33–35). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.

 

Religion and Spirituality

During the parish mission that we had this week at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, our mission presenter said something rather interesting about the idea that one can be spiritual but not religious.  One would be hard pressed to hear people say exactly what each word means and how they are different.  Usually, the person seems to say that they believe in a higher power but they don’t follow an “organized religion” (is there such a thing as unorganized religion?).

Our presenter, Mike Patin, was able to frame it another way.  When someone says that they are spiritual and not religious, they mean they don’t need others to connect to God.  If I am spiritual but not religious, I do not see the point of joining any church or group.

When Catholics profess the creed, they say that they believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  The Catholic Church is apostolic because she believes that all that she knows about Jesus, she has received through the preaching of the Apostles.  In other words, everything that we know, do, and say in our faith has been handed down to us over the centuries by the Holy Spirit, through the apostolic church community…through others!  And together we preserve, live and hand on that faith.

Pope Benedict once said that we get to know God by getting to know the people that know God.  Not only that, in some way the human race is like a prism through which God sends his divine life.  And each human person displays a unique color of that divine light.  So, in every person we can see God’s light and certain characteristics of God.

In some way, we can say that we cannot be spiritual without also being religious.  Which is to say that we cannot have a spiritual relationship with God without having a religious relationship with each other.

Lifting Heavy Burdens

How many times have you and I felt like the laws of the Church were like heavy burdens?  The scriptures allow us to see more deeply into this experience.

On October 12, we read from Luke 11:

The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.
Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”

Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”

It seems almost comical when the scholars of the law draw attention to themselves.  Without missing a beat, Jesus chastises them as well.  With their words and teachings they imposed heavy burdens but did nothing to help them.

We who know the law, who know what is evil and what is good, also know what it is like to carry the burden of the “flesh.”  On October 12, Paul mentions in his letter to the Galations that we know the works of the flesh.  When he mentions “flesh,” he is referring to that part of us that is sinful and at war, as it were, with that better part of ourselves that wants to do God’s will.

The burden of this war can weigh us down and even crush us.  Those who go to confession with the experience of confessing the same sins over and over again can really relate to this.

The scholars of the law were guilty of making these burdens heavier by failing to acknowledge the great difficulty of living according to God’s will.

Jesus, who is the chief teacher and the law giver, has every authority to impose whatever burdens he wishes upon us.  Yet, he knows our weaknesses and our strengths.  His deep compassion for us moves him to lift more than one finger.  He allows his entire body to be lifted up on a cross to touch the hearts of every single one of us.

In this way, in the words of St. Paul, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5).  Jesus lifts us up with him and helps us carry our burdens so that they do not crush us.  Rather, they become occasions to lean on him.

We can also do this for others by looking for those with burdens and lending a helping hand.

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