Today, Father John and I celebrate our anniversaries of ordination to the priesthood. He for 30 years, me for thirteen. Those anniversaries always fall on this memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions, a feast I always find inspirational.
One of 22 Ugandan martyrs, Charles Lwanga is the patron of youth and Catholic action in most of tropical Africa. He and his companions were pages in the court of Mwanga, the Bagandan ruler. He protected his fellow pages, aged 13 to 30, from the immoral demands of Mwanga, and encouraged and instructed them in the Catholic faith during their imprisonment for refusing the ruler’s demands. For his own unwillingness to submit to Mwanga’s demands, and his efforts to safeguard the faith of his friends, Charles was burned to death on June 3, 1886, by Mwanga’s order.
It’s hard enough to live the faith when you can do so without challenge, or even with support. But Jesus prophesied the kind of challenge Charles and his companions faced. In our Gospel today, Jesus foretells that the disciples will flee and leave him alone, which, of course, they did. They later turned back, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and gave their lives as did Charles Lwanga and his companions.
How are we called upon to stand up for others and protect each other from the immoral onslaughts of our own time and place? Witnessing to what is right and good is often inconvenient, and for those like Saint Charles and Jesus’ disciples, sometimes dangerous. But that is what disciples do. That is our ministry, the work to which we have all been called.