Saint Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr

Mass for the school children.

So today, you notice, I’m sure, that I am wearing red vestments.  I’m wearing red vestments because today’s saint, Saint Josaphat, was a martyr.  Do you know what a martyr is?  That’s right, it’s a saint that gave his or her life for Jesus, for the faith.  So the red remembers the blood of the martyrs that was shed for the faith, very much like on Good Friday we wear red to remember the blood of Jesus that wiped away our sins.

It might sound sad or even terrible that we celebrate when someone died.  And in a sense, it is sad that people are martyred.  We would love to live in a world where everyone just accepted the faith and loved Jesus, and as he taught us, loved one another.  But we know that’s not true.  Martyrs remind us that there is something worth fighting for, something worth giving your life for.  And there can be no more noble cause than giving your life for Jesus or for the faith.

Now, there has long been a divide between the Roman Catholic Church, our Church, and the Orthodox Church.  The disagreements were many, and centered on the way the liturgy was celebrated and specific beliefs about the Pope and other issues.  Saint Josaphat was born in Poland and his parents were Orthodox.  He became a monk in the Eastern Church, which is in full communion with us (so he was not Orthodox, as his parents were).  Soon he was made the bishop of the diocese of Vitebsk in Russia.  As bishop, his task was to bridge the divide between the Roman and Orthodox Church, but this was not easy, because the Orthodox monks did not want union with Rome; they feared interference in liturgy and customs.  But over time, he was able to win many of the Orthodox in that area to the union.

But as these things sometimes go, the fight was far from over.  Some people refired the disagreements and split off from the union, and began to oppose Josaphat and all that he was teaching and doing.  Eventually a mob murdered him and threw his body into a river.  His body was recovered and is now buried in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Josaphat is the first saint of the Eastern Church to be canonized by Rome.

Unity is an important thing.  It’s important in families, in places of business, in our school, and in the Church.  In Saint John’s gospel, on the night before Jesus died, Jesus prays for the unity of the Church: “that they may all be one.”  Jesus knew that if we didn’t have unity, we would be a fractured mess in the world, and, sadly, that is what happened.  But we know that Jesus’ prayer will definitely be answered when the time is right, and in the way God wants it.  So we have to be people who promote peace and unity in every way that we can.  We can do that on the playground, in our classrooms, and we can pray for the unity of the Church.  Unity will bring peace.  So, through the intercession of Saint Josaphat, let us bring the Prince of Peace to the world.

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