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 Saint John Paul II during a visit to Korea in 1984.
Our gospel today reminds us that those who hear and act on God’s word are the ones who are member’s of Christ’s family. This reminds me of yesterday’s Gospel which told us to “be careful how you hear.” We have to hear the words with hearts willing to do whatever it is that God asks of us. 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.
One of the effects of a presidential election year for me, is taking a long hard look at who we hold up as our leaders or our heroes. In some ways, a presidential election is an emergence of whoever is the least objectionable candidate, because in this day and age, it’s hard to get good people to run for office. And who could blame them? It’s so hard for candidates to deal with all that public scrutiny, the months of campaigning, the financial outlay. It seems sometimes that those willing to go through all of that aren’t exactly the cream of the crop. But apply that to any other field of interest. What about our sports heroes, or entertainers? How many of them turn out to be flawed in many ways? The people we want to hold up as heroes are very often not very heroic.
But today is a day to celebrate true heroes. Memorial Day originally began in our country as an occasion to remember and decorate the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War. Later it became a holiday to commemorate all those who had died in war in the service of our country. So today we remember those men and women who have given their lives for peace, justice, and righteousness. These have been people who have given everything, have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Just as Jesus in our Gospel today encourages us all to give everything for the Gospel, these people are true heroes because of their ultimate sacrifice.
On this day, I think it would be a mistake to glorify warfare. I don’t think that is the best way to honor the memories of those who have fallen in war. Our Church’s teachings counsel that war is not the way to peace and that developed societies like ours can and must use our resources to seek other ways to solve problems. But we have to acknowledge that there are and have been times in our nation’s history that have called on people to fight for our freedoms and to fight for justice. Today we honor their memory with immense gratitude, because without their sacrifice we probably wouldn’t be free to worship today.
Our heroes should always include those who have given their lives for justice, righteousness, and the faith. Today, we might call to mind the great martyrs of the Church, those who have shed their own blood that we might have the Gospel. Perhaps they inspired those who have given their lives in service to our country.
Today we pray for those who have been part of our lives, part of the life of our Church, and the life of our country. These are the ones who have been people of faith and integrity and are true heroes that God has given us. These are the ones who have laid down their lives for what is right. If we would honor them on this Memorial Day, we should believe as they have believed, we should live as they have lived, and we should rejoice that their memory points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our hope of eternal life.
St. Lawrence was a deacon of the early Church, who was charged with the care of the goods of the Church. Legend has it that he was called in by the Prefect of Rome, who had just killed Pope Sixtus, whose feast day we celebrated last week. The Prefect told Lawrence that he wanted the treasures of the Church, since Christ didn’t bring any money into the world with him, and hence must not be important. So Lawrence told him to give him a few days to inventory the goods of the Church. Three days later, Lawrence assembled a large group of the widows, orphans, blind, lame and leprous. He presented them to the Prefect saying, “Behold, these are the treasures of the Church.” The Prefect was so angry, he ordered him to be killed, but, in his words “by inches,” meaning a slow and tortuous death. Lawrence was bound to a gridiron and was roasted over coals. At one point in the torture, Lawrence is said to have called out cheerfully, “I am done on this side, I think; you can turn me over now.”
Whether or not that was the real story, the point is that Lawrence’s martyrdom illustrates a beautiful acceptance of Jesus’ call in the Gospel today: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” We who would be followers of Christ are called to know what the real treasures of life are, and to be willing to sacrifice to protect them.