In 2014, the world witnessed an unforgettable account of ISIS/ISIL killing 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. In the video released to the whole world, Islamic extremists, with their faces hidden underneath ski masks, cut the throats of these brave Christian martyrs. In their sadistic manifestation of power and manipulation using fear and propaganda, these extremists cowardly took the lives of innocent believers. Yet, as these Coptic martyrs were about to meet their gruesome death, we can hear many of them professed the name of the Savior, “Jesus Christ.”
On a local Christian channel, Beshir Kamel, the brother of two murdered martyrs thanked ISIS/ISIL for not editing out the men’s last declaration of faith because it helped to strengthen his own faith. He said,
“We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs… Since the Roman era, Christians have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way. This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.”
He continued to speak on forgiveness by saying,
“My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask the person to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her son entered the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Wow! What a powerful profession of faith in the Lord! I wonder how many of us can say the same thing if we are presented with a similar situation. To be honest, this is a hard question and it is not (and never can be) easy to answer, yet Christian martyrdom teaches us a lot about genuine faith and love.
We are the people of faith.
This faith comes with a really expensive and hard to accept the price at times! We have read in the Sacred Scriptures that this faith is nourished in a very real and tangible way. The people of faith nourish and pass on this faith as an invaluable part of the communal memory and consciousness of God‘s faithfulness to them. Even though at times throughout our history, many did not know the Almighty, they knew of Him because of what their elders have passed on to them. The oral tradition was foundational and crucial to the Israelites and early Christians‘ social consciousness as elders and leaders passed on to the newer generations what the Lord has done for His people, for them in their own lives, what He can do and will do for those who believe.
So let us ask ourselves some personal and important questions:
- Are we handing on this faith-filled, theocentric memory and consciousness to our children as well?
- What do we talk about in our family gathering? What do we hope to instill within our future generations?
- Will our children know of God and know how to seek Him? Will they know what He has done for us?
It is so important that we remember and teach our children of God‘s faithfulness, and that we are called to be faithful to Him, too.
In the day and age where true love is being smeared and cheapened with casual sexual exchanges, disrespect of the body as the temple of the Lord, meaningless branding and wording of “love” that is more destructive and confusing than being helpful and definitive, we need to teach our children of what it means to be faithful — what it means to choose to stay and to love even when it hurts. Faithfulness speaks louder than empty and nicely-packaged words because it manifests love.
In one of my conversations with a priest friend, we talked and vented about the pressures put upon us as the laity seems to be unhappy with the Church‘s leadership and their perception of failed responses to what is going on around the world. It hurts us more to see many people walking away from the faith or react negatively because they do not get what they want objectively and immediately. This priest friend put into words a similar sentiment I shared sentimentally in our conversation. He said,
“I just don’t get it! If anyone should walk away, it should be us priests first because what we’ve seen and endured. Yet, we stay because we love. This love sucks… It hurts… Yet, here we are… We continue on.”
We stay because we love our vocation. We want to be faithful in serving those who have been entrusted to us. We love being priests even though it hurts at times! We are all humans. We get hurt when things are being (unfairly) dumped on us, raw and negative feelings projected and transferred to us. Yet, we are also mindful of St. Paul’s letters to the Colossians:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship give to me to bring to completion for you the Word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.” (cf. 1:24-28)
Why are we Catholics? Why do we stay? Why do we believe? Why are we faithful? Why do we love? All of those questions are hard to answer, they hurt us at times having to think about them, but they only make sense in our response to the love of God who has always been faithful to us.
The Saints stayed. The Martyrs remained faithful. Humble Christians continue to embrace the creative tensions in light of the loving reality of the Cross. It is not easy, but we can only remain faithful to the One who loves us. There is no perfect answer, and I would just simply like to leave you with the encouraging words that St. Pope John Paul II said to the people of Chile in 1987 as we continue to choose to embrace our faith and love for Christ Jesus: “El amor vence. Cristo venció. El mensaje de la Cruz es muy importante: Dios siempre puede más. — Love wins. Christ won. The message of the Cross is very important: God can always do more.”