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  The pharisees and chief priests have been replaced by Communist dictators and Islamic terrorists.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.

 

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