|God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines.
The Third Wednesday of Easter; or, the Memorial of Saint Martin I, Pope & Martyr.*
Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Acts 8: 1-8.
• Psalm 66: 1-7.
• John 6: 35-40.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Hermenegild, Martyr.**
Lessons from the common, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Wisdom 5: 1-5.
• [The Gradual is omitted.]
• Luke 14: 26-33.
Myrrh-Bearers Wednesday; and, the Feast of the Holy Priest & Martyr Artemon & His Companions.***
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Acts 8: 18-25.
• John 6: 35-39.
10:49 AM 4/13/2016 — Yesterday we read about the martyrdom of Stephen. We also noted what Tertullian had said: sanguis martyrum semen christianorum—“the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians” (Apol., 50, 13: CCL 1, 171); and, one of the ways that was borne out we read about in today's apostolic lesson, as it begins by telling us that Stephen's death resulted in a wholsesale persecution that sent many followers of Christ to scatter throughout the Middle East—all except the Apostles themselves who remained in Jerusalem. And it's interesting to see how Divine Providence works to bear out Tertullian's words; for, while our initial reaction may be to accuse these Christians of running away, Saint Luke tells us that…
Those who had been driven away spread the gospel as they went from place to place; and Philip, who had gone down to one of the cities of Samaria, preached Christ there. The multitude listened with general accord to what Philip said, as their own eyes and ears witnessed the miracles he did (Acts 8: 4-6 Knox).
…and the lesson for us here should be obvious: if there hadn't been a persecution in Jerusalem, the Church there would have probably just stayed there; it was the fact that everyone was out to kill them that drove them out into the known world, where they couldn't help but preach the Gospel to all they met along the way.
Yesterday we had observed the fact that here in our country, where Christians live fat, dumb and happy, we've conditioned ourselves to tolerate things like abortion, gay marriage, contraception, divorce; and, many who call themselves Christians—and even Catholics—don't protest these things, and get nervous and embarrassed when some courageous person in the Church stands up and proclaims the truth; but, in places where Christians are being rounded up and slaughtered by the hundreds by the followers of Mohamed, you don't see any accommodation to the world and it's twisted values, you see martyrdom. When a mother and her children are burned alive because she refuses to kiss the Koran, she's not going to her death thinking, “Gee, wouldn't it have been great if I could have used birth control without feeling guilty about it, or if the pope could've allowed women to become priests, or let my gay cousin marry his boyfriend.” It's only where the Church is comfortable that Christians begin to drift away from the Cross and the Gospel. Where the Church is attacked, the Cross ceases to be a burden and becomes a life preserver.
And what was true for the early Church historically, what is true for the Church in persecution now, is also true for each one of us in the daily spiritual combat in which we constantly wrestle with the permissive will of God. The difficulties we face maintaining our spiritual and moral equilibrium in a godless age may seem cruel and harsh and unfair to us; but, it causes many of us to pray who probably wouldn't pray at all; it moves many of us to go to church whereas, under less trying circumstances, we would have just stayed home; it even brings people into the confessional who haven't been there in years: so many times people will come in and begin their confession by telling the priest all about the tremendous tragedy that has just befallen them. It's frustrating for the priest when that happens because he's not a counselor, and knows no more about how to advise them about their personal problems than they know themselves, and he has to try and get them to calm down and stop focusing on their problems and get on with listing for him their sins; but, he has to be grateful for the fact that, were it not for their personal problems, they would've probably gone another twenty years without seeing the inside of a confessional.
The same can be said for those who get upset with the Church, herself, and who are perturbed with the way Pope Francis is running the Church; but, were it not for the fact that it seems to them that certain dogmas of the faith are being challenged from within the Church—regardless of whether that's true—they probably wouldn't have bothered to clarify and solidify their own belief in those dogmas. Visit those social media sites where traditional Catholics gather, and you'll see people getting all hot and bothered about the necessity of being in the state of grace to receive Holy Communion who may have never even thought about that before.
We're all familiar with the cliché, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” As platitudinous as clichés can be, they wouldn't be clichés if they weren't true. What began with the death of the Archdeacon Stephen continues to this day, making Tertullian's words truer every day: wherever Christians are being martyred, the Church grows, and whenever the faith is attacked, the faith of Christians becomes stronger. So, as we pray for the Church during this time of persecution, let's not forget the words of today's psalm:
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!” (66: 1-3 NABRE).
* The last pope to be martyred, Martin I, as a deacon, had served as the Pope's liaison to the court of Constantinople, where he disputed with Emperor Constans II regarding the last of the great Christological heresies, the Monothelite heresy, which held that Jesus had only a divine will and was thus not fully human. As Pope, he was exiled from Rome back to Constantinople where he was tried for treason and exilted to Crimea, where he died of starvation and ill-treatment in 656.
** Son of the King of the Visigoths in Spain, Hermenegild was put to death in 586 by the Arians, Christians who claimed that Jesus was not fully God, out of hatred for his faith in the Divinity of Christ.
*** The typicon of the Melkite Church commemorates Saint Martin I today along with the West. The Ruthenian Church, along with the Orthodox Churches, commemorates Pope Saint Martin tomorrow along with others.
Artemon was a priest in Laodicæ during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. He was beheaded in 303 for refusing to sacrifice in the Temple of Aesculapius. He is not to be confused with a Roman heretic of the same name who preached the adoptionist (non-trinitarian) heresy, c. 230.