Grace to you!
There is wisdom in how the Catholic Church, plus some Protestant Churches, ranks the feast days of the saints in the Breviary, or Missal (The Church's liturgical book with the prayers and instructions for the Mass). In their order of priority are the feasts that relate to the Trinity—the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father. Next is the feast of the dedication of the Church. Following it is the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord, who is the first among the saints. Then comes the feast of the apostles. After the apostles is the feast of the martyrs. Then come others such as the common of pastors, doctors of the Church, and the virgins. Also are the celebration of the men saints, women saints, religious, saints noted for works of mercy and saints for educators, in that order.
Observe that the feast of the martyrs comes right after the feast of the apostles. There is wisdom in the Church's beatification and canonization processes—that is, the process of declaring someone a saint). Also, did you know that no extraordinary miracles or "first-class" miracles are required to canonize somebody who was a martyr for the faith in Christ? Martyrdom is, in itself, the ultimate act of heroic virtue. It tells us how the Church looks at the sacrifice of martyrdom.
I tell you, the great courage of Michael Nnadi, speaks volumes of the audacity of faith. He never ceased bearing witness to Christ amidst the tortuous of the evil kidnappers. He was a seminarian from the Diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria. On January 9, 2020, he was kidnapped alongside three other seminarians in the Good Shepherd Seminary, Kaduna, in the Northern part of Nigeria. One of the abductors' confessions that Michael lost his life for courageously bearing witness to Christ is a testimony of sainthood and courage of faith. No miracle supersedes that of giving one's life for faith in Christ. Martyrdom beats all sacrifices.
Hence, the worst sin a believer could commit is apostasy, which could be incremental or definitive. It means renouncing or abandoning one's faith in God. Often, this is more evident when it is done publicly. If one can't hold on to the core of one's faith in the Risen Lord when small trials come, how would one do so when there is an immediate danger to one's life?
One of the New Testament synonyms for witnessing is martyrdom. Thus, just like martyrdom is the highest form of the witness, the lowest point of non-witness to Christ is apostasy. Therefore, nothing is worth falling into the temptation of this low point of spiritual darkness. Nothing!
To publicly reject the Lord or rather to deny him is to shut the door to the way, the truth, and the life. It is to place oneself on the wrong side of the aisle of divine mercy and justice. It is choosing Sheol, a metaphor for a horrible state in life and eternity.
Are there difficulties and trials that are daring our faith, or causing us to reconsider our faith in the Risen Lord? The Lord encourages us to be courageous. "Fear not... so, everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 10:31-33).
The above may sound harsh to some. Some may say it is old theology and irrelevant in the context of today. Yet beneath it lies the true courage of witnessing to Christ. If a compromising spirit relating to the truth and identity of Jesus Christ is ideal, I believe the Lord would have schooled the disciples on the art of doing so. He would have mentored them on the best tactics of diplomacy to compromise and better negotiation tactics to avoid persecution. He would have told them how faith in him depends on situations and not something for which one has to die. He would have advised them to allow the context and the world they live in to determine what aspect of his teachings they should accept or not accept. But he didn't.
In matters of the choice between what is evil and what is good and righteous, the Lord doesn't propose a middle ground. There is no need to negotiate with the devil because there is no goodwill at the negotiation table of the demonic. It is all deceit for the devil is true to its character—Father of Lies (Jn 8:44).
There is something about the Good News of salvation, which Jesus is and brings to us, that stares us in the face. It is overtly daring. First were the excellent teaching and demonstration of Jesus' identity during the Sermon on the Mount. There the Lord proposes everything other than the conventional. Here again (in Mt 10:26-33), the Lord encourages believers to have the courage of witnessing even when it entails martyrdom. The Letter to the Hebrews describes such a commitment to the Gospel as holding on "up to the point of shedding your blood" (Heb 12:4).
Practically, being on the side of God wasn't easy for Jeremiah in the Old Testament. It won him more enemies than friends. He was martyred for it too. It wasn't easy for any of the pioneers of the faith, the early Church. How do we expect that ours will be a cozy laurel in a comfy world? To think so is to daydream.
Scary truth? Certainly. But it needs to be told.
The Lord is frank, as well as encouraging us to take the bull by the horn. The kingdom of God isn't semblance with the ways of the world. Otherwise, it wouldn't be prepped on the wood of the cross. Instead, it is won because the saving blood dropped from that wood of the cross for many. Courage!
Those ways or things that would dull Christ in our life don't deserve our affection. If we stand up to them and reflect Christ, we will share in the glory of the martyrs. We receive glory because in little things, those small temptations and trials, and subtle lures against holiness, we fought like spiritual marines, armed in faith and blessed by grace. Crown is assured in Christ.
I am praying for the grace of courage and endurance in moments of trials. Amen
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time A: Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.