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'Come Follow Me'
By Chris Sparks (Apr 21, 2014)
Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us. — Pope Francis, La Stampa, 12/14/2013
Holy Week, which has just concluded, is the commemoration of the martyrdom of Christ Jesus Our Lord. He died for faith in the Father, for the salvation of the whole world. He gave witness to the love of God by dying in shame, so that all may have life eternal, and rising in glory, to show that He, the Son of the eternal Father, had defeated death.
And He calls all of us who call ourselves Christians to be walking right behind Him.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" — Mt 16:24-26
For those of us who do not face daily physical danger because of our faith, this can take the form of bearing the cross of a particularly persistent temptation, or some damaging weakness in our character. Our cross, then, becomes resisting that temptation, strengthening the opposing virtue, and repenting again and again each time we fall. Or perhaps our cross is a family member, friend, or neighbor in need. We must regularly sacrifice for this brother or sister, perhaps even to the point of pain, out of love, drawing deeply on prayer and the strength of the Holy Spirit. Maybe our cross is our job, or an illness, or any number of other trials and tribulations that require us to offer up a sacrifice in obedience to the law and love of God.
But there are many Christians around the world for whom martyrdom isn't merely the "white martyrdom" of living a good Christian life, but rather the red martyrdom of professing their faith in the face of death, or of going again and again into danger in fidelity to their vocation, in obedience to God's call. There are members of the household of God dying by the day, by the hour, and their cries too often go unheard in the relative security of the West.
Boston Globe reporter John Allen says in his book The Global War on Christians that as he spoke to refugees from violent persecution across the globe, many of them asked for the same thing: "Do not forget us." Do not forget those members of the Mystical Body of Christ who are suffering and dying every day. Do not forget that the physical safety that Christians usually experience in the West isn't the norm around the world. Do not forget that the average Christian today is, according to historian Phillip Jenkins, "likely to be an extremely poor person by Western standards, with all that implies in terms of access to food, water, schooling, transportation, medical care, and a healthy environment. Nor, probably, does this ordinary believer live in a stable nation-state in which government is limited by the popular will, and where human rights receive more than lip service."
This is the cross borne by the majority of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world. We are called to be like Simon of Cyrene, helping our suffering brethren to bear their crosses in this world today through our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving, by telling their stories, remembering their sacrifices, and sending them material aid as we are able through organizations such as the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need.
Remember the martyrs. They are your brothers and sisters scattered across the world, bleeding, dying, all for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. They go to our Father and God, following the trail blazed by Jesus (see Jn 20:17), preceding us into eternal glory.
They have run their race and won their imperishable crown. They have followed Christ to Calvary, walking in His footsteps of faith and fidelity to the hope that is in them, to the grace of God given at their Baptism and sealed by their Confirmation (if they'd even lived long enough to see their Confirmation!). They have fought the good fight and gone to their eternal reward, and now crowd about the edges of the spiritual combat here on earth, praying for us and cheering us on to meet them and be with them in heaven with the Triune God for all eternity.
In this time of Easter, of feasting and rejoicing, let us remember to pray for those enduring a long Lent, a long Calvary, in the sure belief that when they have gone to their eternal reward, they shall remember us in the Easter of eternity to God almighty, praying for those who have prayed for them, helping those who helped them.
Remember the martyrs, and they will remember you.