In the 1800s, Andrew Kim became the first native Korean to become a priest when he traveled 1300 miles to seminary in China. He managed to find his way back into the country six years later. When he returned home, he arranged for more men to travel to China for studies. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded.
St. Paul Chong was a lay apostle who was also martyred. During the persecutions of 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867, 103 members of the Christian community gave their lives for the faith. These included some bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay people, including men and women, married and unmarried, children, young people and the elderly. They were all canonized by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Korea in 1984.
Our gospel today reminds us to place the light of our faith on lampstands for all the world to see. The Korean martyrs did this at the cost of their own lives. May we be as willing to give of ourselves today as they were in that day.
St. Andrew Dung-Lac was a priest in Vietnam in the early nineteenth century. He and his 116 companions, including Spanish Dominicans, members of the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris, and 96 Vietnamese, including 36 other priests, were all martyred around the year 1839. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were martyred in Vietnam during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” That ominous news from today’s Gospel can have us shaking with fear, but that fear can never distract us from our mission, or else the fear has won. St. Andrew and his companions never gave in to the fear, and even gave their lives for the faith.
As our Church year ends, may we take courage from the example of the Vietnamese martyrs and courageously rededicate ourselves to witnessing to the faith, regardless of the cost.
Historically speaking, we know almost nothing about St. Agatha other than the fact that she was martyred in Sicily during the persecution of Decius in the third century. Legend has it that Agatha was arrested as a Christian, tortured and sent to a house of prostitution to be mistreated. She was preserved from being violated, and was later put to death. When Agatha was arrested, the legend says, she prayed: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all things! You see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am—you alone. I am your sheep; make me worthy to overcome the devil.” And in prison, she said: “Lord, my creator, you have protected me since I was in the cradle. You have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Now receive my spirit.”
The stories of the early virgin martyrs like Agatha do two things. First, they remind us of the unsurpassed greatness of a relationship with Christ. If they could believe in Christ when it would have been so much easier—and life-saving—to do so, then how can we turn away from God in the trying moments of our own lives, those trials which pale in comparison to the martyrdom they suffered? But even those relatively minor sufferings which we may bear can be the source of our salvation. We should look to the saints like Agatha to intercede for us that we may patiently bear our sufferings and so give honor and glory to God. Second, these stories always point to Christ. Even though we could get caught up in honoring a saint who stood fast for the faith to death, still that same saint would have us instead be caught up in honoring Christ, the one who was their hope and salvation.
Agatha’s martyrdom is a participation in the “sprinkled Blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” of which the writer of the letters to the Hebrews speaks today. She was joined inseparably to Christ in both her virginity and her martyrdom. Her example calls us to join ourselves to Christ inseparably as well, in whatever way we may be called upon to do it. May our prayer in good times and bad always be the same as that of Agatha: “Possess all that I am—you alone.”
All that we know for sure about St. Blase was that he was the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia during the fourth century. Everything else is legend, which means that it may or may not be true. Even if it’s not true, there is Truth in the legend, because it points us to Christ. St. Blase is, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews says today, one of that “great cloud of witnesses” who helps us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith.” He was known to take up the work of Jesus the healer, as we see in today’s Gospel.
The legendary Acts of St. Blase were written 400 years after his death. According to them Blase was a good bishop, working hard to encourage the spiritual and physical health of his people. Because of persecution that still raged throughout Armenia, Blase was apparently forced to flee to the back country. There he lived as a hermit in solitude and prayer, but made friends with the wild animals. One day a group of hunters seeking wild animals for the amphitheater stumbled upon Blase’s cave. They were first surprised and then frightened. The bishop was kneeling in prayer surrounded by patiently waiting wolves, lions and bears.
As the hunters hauled Blase off to prison, the legend has it, a mother came with her young son who had a fish bone lodged in his throat. At Blase’s command the child was able to cough up the bone. That is the reason he has become the patron saint of those suffering from diseases of the throat.
Eventually, Blase was tortured, and when he still refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, he was beheaded in the year 316. Today we pray in a special way for protection from afflictions of the throat and from other illnesses. The blessing of St. Blase is a sign of our faith in God’s protection and love for us and for the sick.
Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr,
may you be delivered from every disease of the throat
and from every other illness:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today's readings | Today's saint
Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God,
a workman who causes no disgrace,
imparting the word of truth without deviation.
St. Paul encourages his friend Timothy today to remain faithful to God and the Gospel and to be a tireless worker for the Truth. Those qualities make this reading such an appropriate one for the feast of St. Boniface, bishop and martyr.
Boniface was a Benedictine monk in England. He gave up the real possibility of being elected abbot of his community in order to reach out to the German people. Pope Gregory II sent Boniface to a Germany where paganism was a way of life, and where the clergy were at best uneducated and at worst corrupt and disobedient. Reporting all of this back to Pope Gregory, the Holy Father commissioned him to reform the German Church. He was provided with letters of introduction to civil and religious authorities, but even so met with some resistance and interference by both lay people and clergy. Yet, he was extremely successful, centering his reforms around teaching the virtue of obedience to the clergy and establishing houses of prayer similar to Benedictine monasteries. Boniface and 53 companions were finally martyred during a mission, in which he was preparing converts for Confirmation.
What guided Boniface, what guided Paul and Timothy, was the words of today’s Gospel reading, those words which tell us the greatest of the commandments:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
When we love as we are loved, we cannot help but remain close to God and be vessels of grace to others and of life to the Church. Boniface, Paul and Timothy were men who loved this deeply. We are called to love that way too, today and every day, for the honor and glory of God.