The New Martyrdom

Worth Revisiting Wednesday! This post originally appeared on March 23, 2014.

Everyone is talking about the New Evangelization. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (the reason for the Council, in this author’s humble opinion), it is a missionary effort to bring the Gospel to a modern, secular world which has, for the most part, rejected, ignored, or at best, compartmentalized it for its own purposes.

I love Pope John XXIII’s image of “opening the windows”. Some have interpreted this as the Council’s blessing on bringing the modern world into the Church, on updating its teachings and practices to “better fit into” the modern world that the Church finds herself in. These same people have been gravely disappointed that the Church has remained consistent in its teachings, especially the ones that prove difficult for the modern mind to accept. If the Council was not about bringing the modern world into the Church, then what do we do with this image of the open window?

I say, “Fly!” Yes, the New Evangelization is about flying out of the window with the Gospel in hand (and heart!) and living it radically, encountering the world at every turn, bringing the light of Christ to it. I say flying because human beings cannot fly of their own power. The New Evangelization requires a complete trust in God’s providential care. A radical living of the Gospel demonstrates that trust. It will bring about a transformation of the world, not a “better fitting into” it.

The Christian views the world through the eyes of the Gospel, not the Gospel through the eyes of the world. Just like the first Christians, a person radically living the Gospel, radically loving as God loves, will be misunderstood, labeled an outcast at best or a threat at worst, and ultimately rejected or persecuted. The Christian is not of the world, and will be hated by the world (John 15:9). Thus, the New Evangelization is a call to a New Martyrdom.

This martyrdom is not to be sought, nor is it a rejection of the world. It is simply the response the world will have to the Christian, who is loving for the world’s sake, in order to transform it. If the world is considered “the enemy”, the Christian loves the enemy, making friends (even brother and sisters) in the process, and bringing about the kingdom of God. We fight the enemy with love, not so the enemy dies, but so that he may have life.

Pope Benedict welcomes Pope FrancisBoth Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and his successor Pope Francis understand this. Two ways the contemporary Christian lives out this martyrdom is by loving God and loving one’s neighbor – regardless of the worldly consequences. In a modern world, where human reason is god and wealth is the measure of success, faith in a transcendent God and life that first concerns the welfare of one’s neighbor put one in opposition to the way things work. Benedict spent much of his papacy tending to the celebration of the liturgy, the worship of God. His papacy culminated in a Year of Faith, celebrating faith in the resurrected Jesus and the consequences of having a personal relationship with Him (which is, of course, to know unconditional love in one’s life and to be able to recognize the lack of it in the world). Pope Francis has followed up with a focus on how human beings are to treat each other in light of this faith, placing a spotlight on the poor of the world, our neighbor.

We might come to an awareness of how our actions – economic, political, environmental, etc. – affect other people (even future generations), but we will only care about these effects if, by faith, we are united to all people in the love of God. Only with the faith of which Benedict speaks can the Church of Francis come to fruition. The witness of the New Martyrs will bring the world to Christ, for they will prove the truth of the Gospel.

Carmina Chapp teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Today is the feast of St. Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), a saint cut from the same cloth as St Mary MacKillopDorothy Day (1897-1980) and St. Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-62). St. Mary bravely sought to follow God’s will, refusing to accept easy answers or options to what she felt God had called her. A native Australian (of Scottish descent), Mary established her own religious order—since no existing ones quite met her expectations. The Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart (or Josephites) staffed orphanage schools and engaged other sorts of charitable work among the poor. Much like Dorothy Day, Mary started this apostolic work in her twenties, and like Day she encountered resistance from powerful church leaders. Mary’s bishop actually excommunicated her for a while, having misread her and her order’s independence as dissent. Much like St. Gianna, who endured physical pain (dying from cancer while pregnant), St. Mary endured the spiritual pain of excommunication patiently. The human foibles that led to St. Mary’s temporary banishment still puzzle us, because she and her Josephite sisters clearly engaged in Christ-like work. Her online biography states:

Despite her struggles with Church authorities, Mary MacKillop and her Sisters were able to offer social services that few, if any, government agencies in Australia could. They served Protestants and Catholics alike. They worked among the aborigines. They taught in schools and orphanages and served unmarried mothers.

Once reinstated, she wisely sought assistance from Rome and eventually won the support of Pope Leo XIII himself. At her death in 1909, the Josephites thrived. Beatified in 1995 by St. John Paul II, St. Mary MacKillop was canonized, the first Australian recognized as a saint, in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI.

St. Mary’s witness resonates in today’s lectionary, too. Like Dorothy and St. Gianna, and surely an entire host of holy women—some canonized, others known only to God—St. Mary MacKillop feared God’s authority, not men’s. Through the prophet Jeremiah God declares He will gather the remnants under new leadership, ones who tend to God’s people. “I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing”. Psalm 23 likewise celebrates God’s abiding care, even in the shadows, while St. Paul encourages the Ephesians through Christ the remote and marginalized are brought near to God. St. Mary MacKillop endured what she did sustained by these biblical calls to justice for God’s people.

Finally, St. Mark (ch. 6:30-34) details Christ’s concern for the masses—many of whom thwarted his and the apostles’ desire for quiet reflection—and His unflinching gift of Himself. After all, they were “like sheep without a shepherd.” Surely this very Gospel example helped inspire St. Mary’s wide-ranging work among Australia’s poor. William Placher, along with many other theologians and biblical scholars, has noted St. Mark’s stark, often shocking, imagery which propels Christ through the Gospel. In Mark, Jesus always acts immediately. It is almost as if Jesus is impatient with the entire narrative, rushing through His ministry towards the Passion, His ultimate self-giving. Facing a leaderless yet expectant crowd, the exhausted Jesus teaches nonetheless. That same fervor spikes our interest in saints like St. Mary MacKillop, holy women who courageously addressed the problems right before them.

Jeffrey Marlett teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.