by Fr. Tommy Lane
Thousands of pilgrims visit the Franciscan Monastery in Široki Brijeg every year, about one hour distant from Međugorje (Medjugorje). On February 7th 1945 the Communist soldiers arrived and said, “God is dead, there is no God, there is no Pope, there is no Church, there is no need of you, you also go out in the world and work.” The communists forgot that the Franciscans were working, most of the Franciscans were teaching in the adjoining school. Some of the Franciscans were famous professors and had written books. The communists asked them to remove their habits. The Franciscans refused. One angry soldier took the Crucifix and threw it on the floor. He said, “you can now choose either life or death.” Each of the Franciscans knelt down, embraced the Crucifix and said, “You are my God and my All.” The thirty Franciscans were taken out and slaughtered and their bodies burned in a nearby cave where their remains lay for many years. Today they are buried inside the Franciscan church. (this account continues below) In our Gospel today Jesus said, “if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.” The thirty Franciscan martyrs of Široki Brijeg are a powerful example of declaring oneself in the presence of others for Jesus. They lived something else Jesus also said in the Gospel, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matt 10:28)
We do not live under such difficult circumstances. But the Church in our time is also suffering greatly as it did in Herzegovina in 1945. We have lost our sense of right and wrong because we are drifting away from God. When we drift away from the Truth it follows naturally that we don’t know the difference between truth and falsehood anymore. We do not know any more that sins are sins despite the fact that Paul wrote to the Romans that the whole human race has sinned as we heard in our second reading (Rom 5:12). A different type of martyrdom is needed now, dry martyrdom or we might say white martyrdom, showing by the way we live and by what we say that we are declaring ourselves for Jesus in the presence of others, that divine grace comes to us from Jesus as Paul wrote (Rom 5:15)
Sometimes we hear it said that someone is following the crowd. The crowd now is running away from God because it is uncool to be religious, and the martyrdom needed now is not to follow the crowd. The crowd thinks being religious limits one’s freedom, curbs one’s enjoyment of life. The crowd, looking for pleasure at every moment, has got lost unknown to itself and does not realize that freedom and pleasure are only achieved by following God’s way. When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time the crowd greeted him and threw palms on the road before him, some even put their cloaks on the road before him. A short time later the crowd asked for Jesus to be crucified and asked for Barabbas to be released. So much for the support of the crowd. Even the apostles gave in to the pressure of the crowd. When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane they abandoned Jesus and fled. In our first reading too Jeremiah said his friends deserted him after he proclaimed a prophetic word from God.
Instead of following the crowd, the invitation to us in the Scripture readings this weekend is to be strong and stand up for Jesus and for what is right even if it is unpopular. Our happiness will not come from following the crowd because the crowd is not happy. Our happiness will come from following God’s ways. Even if they think you are out of touch, odd, or old-fashioned because you go to Mass, because you respect marriage as a sacrament and you follow God’s way, hold your head high. Remember on the last day they will not judge you, God will, and God will also judge them. Jeremiah, as we heard in our first reading suffered dreadful persecutions because he would not give in to following the crowd, but he was fully aware of the presence of God with him. He said, “the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero.” (Jer 10:11) Remember the words of Jesus, “If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.”
Witnessing to Jesus and following God’s way also helps others in the crowd who are lacking courage to follow Jesus. One of the soldiers in the firing squad at Široki Brijeg later said, “Since I was a child, in my family, I had always heard from my mother that God exists. To the contrary, Stalin, Lenin, Tito had always asserted and taught each one of us: there is no God. God does not exist! But when I stood in front of the martyrs of Široki Brijeg and I saw how those friars faced death, praying and blessing their persecutors, asking God to forgive the faults of their executioners, it was then that I recalled to my mind the words of my mother and I thought that my mother was right: God exists!” That soldier converted and now he has a son a priest and a daughter a nun. As I said, witnessing to Jesus and following God’s way also helps others in the crowd who are lacking the courage to follow Jesus.
I conclude with the words of Jesus, “If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.” (Matt 10:32)
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
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