Am I Included in that Number?

Sermon for the Feast of the Forty Holy Martyrs by St. Theodore the ...

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew:

Jesus said to his Apostles: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:16–23 NAB)

Today’s Gospel reading from the lectionary is disturbing. Honestly, many of Jesus’ words are. Who is Jesus talking to? Obviously in context he was speaking to his disciples who became his apostles. From Scripture and tradition we know that they endured these things in spades as they went forth to preach the gospel. They all suffered martyrdom with the exception of St. John the Beloved, and his life was no cakewalk.

Down through the 20 centuries of Christian history men and women have heard these words and wondered if it would apply to them. For millions it has been the case. There are countless people today in many parts of the world who know the reality of this prophetic passage of Scripture spoken by our Lord.

What about you and me? Whenever I have read this I have imagined some distant, dystopian danger that would not impact my life or the lives of my loved ones. But what if you and I don’t have that luxury? What if we are included in the number of those who cry out in Revelation 6:9–11?

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the the testimony they had given; they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed. (NRSV)

We don’t know what today and tomorrow holds for us. We should hear the word of the Gospel today and not immediately exclude ourselves or come up with all the reasons why it won’t happen to us (as has been my custom). Only God knows our future, yet Jesus does give us comfort and a challenge.

The comfort: “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of the Father speaking through you.”

The challenge: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

A Prayer for the Preservation of the Faith
(St. Clement Hofbauer, 1751-1820)

O my Redeemer, will that terrible moment ever come, when but few Christians shall be left who are inspired by the spirit of faith, that when Thine indignation shall be provoked and Thy protection shall be taken from us? Have our vices and our evil lives irrevocably moved Thy justice to take vengeance, perhaps this very day, upon Thy children? O Thou, the author and finisher of our faith, we conjure Thee, in the bitterness of our contrite and humbled hearts, not to suffer the fair light of faith to be extinguished in us. Remember Thy mercies of old, turn Thine eyes in compassion upon the vineyard planted by Thine own right hand, and watered by the sweat of the Apostles, by the precious blood of countless Martyrs and by the tears of so many sincere penitents, and made fruitful by the prayers of so many Confessors and innocent Virgins. O divine Mediator, look upon those zealous souls who raise their hearts to Thee and pray without ceasing for the maintenance of that most precious gift of Thine, the true faith. We beseech Thee, O God of justice, to hold back the decree of our rejection, and to turn away Thine eyes from our vices and regard instead the adorable Blood shed upon the Cross, which purchased our salvation and daily intercedes for us upon our altars. Ah, keep us safe in the true Catholic and Roman faith. Let sickness afflict us, vexations waste us, misfortunes overwhelm us! But preserve in us Thy holy faith; for if we are rich with this precious gift, we shall gladly endure every sorrow, and nothing shall ever be able to change our happiness. On the other hand, without this great treasure of faith, our unhappiness would be unspeakable and without limit! O good Jesus, author of our faith, preserve it pure within us; keep us safe in the bark of Peter, faithful and obedient to his successor and Thy Vicar here on earth, that so the unity of Holy Church may be maintained, holiness fostered, the Holy See protected in freedom, and the Church universal extended to the benefit of souls. O Jesus, author of our faith, humble and convert the enemies of Thy Church; grant true peace and concord to all Christian kings and princes and to all believers; strengthen and preserve us in Thy holy service, to the end that we may live in Thee and die in Thee. O Jesus, author of our faith, let me live for Thee and die for Thee. Amen. (from The Raccolta)

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