Martyrs, witnesses to Christ, have been revered from the first days of the Christian community.
The first martyr, Stephen, was killed by the Judean religious leaders for his witness to Jesus. After his death, “Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him.” (Acts 8:2)
The early Christians considered death for Christ as a way to intimate union with Him.
But this was not easy and some feared that they would abandon Christ in the face of suffering or that others would try to dissuade them.
Today’s saint, Ignatius of Antioch, was among them and wrote to the Church at Rome:
I am writing this to all the Churches; willingly I mean to die for God if you do not hinder me! Show me no false kindness. Let me be the food of wild beasts, for they shall bring me to God. I am God’s wheat, and the teeth of beasts will grind me into God’s pure bread. Beg Christ for me that the beasts may be instrumental in making me a sacrificial victim for God.
Ignatius is echoing John 12: 24
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
But not all witnesses to Christ had to face the lions as did Ignatius.
Many contemporary witnesses who inspire me are people who stood up for the life and dignity of others – people like Sister Dorothy Stang in the Brazilian rain-forest, Monseñor Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Bishop Juan Gerardi in Mexico.
Today is anniversary of the death in 1996 of one witness who is not as well known.
Richard Michael Fernando, S.J., was a Filipino Jesuit scholastic, working at the Center of the Dove, Bantesy Prieb Technical School for the Handicapped, in Cambodia. This twenty-six year old was killed as he tried to protected the students from an angry student threatening to lob a grenade.
At a retreat earlier in 1996, he wrote:
I wish when I die, that people remember
not how great, powerful, or talented I was,
but that I served and spoke for the truth.
I gave witness to what is right.
I was sincere with all my words and actions.
In other words, I loved and followed Christ.
He was a witness who loved Christ and those at the margins of society, a witness to the God of Life.
May the witness of Ignatius of Antioch and Richie Fernando inspire us to live our lives in such a way that people can experience the God of Life.
A tribute to Richie Fernando, S.J., can be found here. The photo is “borrowed” from that site.