BY: Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB
Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico


HOMILY: The New Testament, including today’s Gospel text, is clear that those who obey God are capable of giving witness or testimony to Christ. The first Christian community gave testimony to Christ especially by means of their joyful and fraternal charity, their ready poverty, their public witness in court when needed, and eventually, for some, the shedding of their blood in the service of Christ as martyrs, sometimes called the “supreme witness.”

Clearly the witness of the apostles and the first Christian didn’t consist in only making sure some fact or truth was spoken about correctly, but in a living out of God’s command of love and in the conviction of God’s overall plan for the salvation of the human race. The New Testament authors try to make clear that the Good News is worthy of belief because it has been lived out and been witnessed to by many people who have been convinced of God’s creative and sustaining action in the world. This is solid testimony, then, which doesn’t depend on human wisdom, but on the power of the Risen Christ.

The power of the Risen Savior is manifest in the strong and weak of this world, in you and me. All of us are called, like the first followers of Christ, to introduce into the world a leaven that directs attention to the realities that are above, as Saint Paul calls them, rather than on things that are on earth. This isn’t human power at work, such as the strength of weight lifters and marathon runners, but the power of the crucified and Risen Lord, who calls all to himself, the good and bad alike. “When I am powerless, it is then that I am strong,” as Saint Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 12:10), because it is Christ who supplies the necessary strength.

We firmly believe that the Holy Spirit continues to act in the Church, even in her bruised and broken members, born anew in the Paschal, that is, the Easter mystery, which clearly proclaims God’s love, which is even stronger than death.

As a result of all these marvels, giving witness to the Lord today means speaking and living in the truth the Church has always proclaimed, namely, that Christ came from heaven, sent by God, as the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the Light that is intended to lead everyone back to heaven, to the Kingdom of our God. The witness we bear is confirmed by the Holy Spirit moving in those who are faithful to God’s call to be builders of the Kingdom.

The Gospel today deals with a vitally important way that Christ’s followers enter fully into the Easter mystery and the wonders of death and resurrection, namely, through persecution. “No servant is greater than his master,” said our Lord,” as well as, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” So the follower shouldn’t be surprised at, or run from, persecution. “Do not fear those that deprive the body of life but cannot destroy the soul,” we hear in today’s Gospel text.
In other words, the disciple cannot expect to be treated differently than Christ was, but that should not cause fear, which would be a real hindrance to growth.

The source of our confidence in the face of persecution is God alone who is ever at our side. Grounds for courage are given in that no one can destroy the real person, the inner self, the immortal soul. Surrender then should be to God, who is all-powerful and whose unlimited power should give courage to the disciple, to be able even to face death for the love of Christ and the brethren.

Persecution born thus bears fruit in admitting the evil of sin, but the eternal riches of God’s love that conquers sin. This is the mystery of paradox. A rabbi of ancient times expressed it this way: “It is not in our hands to understand the prosperity of the wicked or the suffering of the just.”

Repeated outright persecution in the history of the Church has in many ways solidified the faith and built up the Church by creating an invincible face to the persecutors. And persecution has another side as well: the attitude of the persecuted becomes a sign that the hour of salvation is at hand, that Christ’s coming is as sure as the dawn. Persecution shows the hope of the follower of Christ that suffering is not in vain, that no one can kill the soul, and Christ has come to lead us from suffering to joy.

To give our life for Christ may not necessarily include the shedding of our blood. Nonetheless, we are called to give all in our private life, in our families and communities, in our places of work and social contacts, that we prefer nothing whatever to Christ, as Saint Benedict teaches, for Christ in fact has preferred nothing whatever to us, as Saint Cyprian of Carthage put it.

Every Sunday is to be a proclamation of the death and resurrection of Christ until he comes in glory. By means of the celebration of the Eucharist, especially on Sundays, followers of Christ enter into the dynamism of unconditional love and feel within the ability to conquer evil, sin and sorrow, by the power given in this sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord.

The believer seriously participating in the Mass is strengthened to proclaim and to bear clear witness to the truth of Christ and to struggle with God’s grace against the forces of sin and evil.

May this be true for us all and something that grows each day within us.

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