The beheading of John the Baptist is one of my favorite feast days. There is something compelling about the witness of my patron saint and his willingness to give his life for truth and justice, as the prayer at Mass today reads.
I have been fascinated by martyrs for many years. I deliberately use the word “fascinated” which comes from the Latin word which means “bewitched” or “spell-bound.”
The willingness to give one’s life is bewitching, compelling me to look closer.
For me, several twentieth century martyrs hold me spell-bound – Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero who gave his life for the people of El Salvador, not flinching from speaking the truth and being a voice for those without a voice; Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant who refused to serve in Hitler’s army because he saw Nazism as a hell-bent movement; Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who died in the Algerians desert, living as a poor man among the poorest.
But I have been deeply moved by the Trappist martyrs of Tibhirine, who lived among their Muslim brothers and sisters in Algeria and stayed in the face of threats. Their death by extremists is a witness to love for all. The Testament of their prior, Christian de Chergé, is a witness to the power of forgiving love.
Yesterday, during Mass in San Agustín, at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, I raised the cup of the Blood of Christ – as the deacon is called to do.
At that moment I recognized that Jesus is calling me to give my life – even to the point of death – for Him and for the People of God.
It was not a moment of fear – but of consolation.
Yet, as I reflect this morning, I realize that giving one’s life is not a question of a last minute decision in the face of the executioner. It is a question of a daily dying, a daily giving, a daily putting of myself at the service of God and all, especially the poor.
In the rite of ordination of a deacon, I was asked
“¿Quieres imitar siempre en tu vida el ejemplo de Cristo, cuyo cuerpo y sangre servirás en el Altar?”
Are you willing to always imitate in your life the example of Christ, whose Body and Blood you will serve at the altar?
The response is:
Si, quiero hacerlo, con la ayuda de Dios.
Yes, I am willing to do so, with the help of God.
It is the only response in which I said “with the help of God.”
Perhaps because it’s only with the help of God that I can witness – that is be a martyr – for the love of God.
May God give me the courage to live this witness every day – not only in the hour of death.