Thursday, 2 December 2010

Triduum Day 1 Year A

If ever you go to London, make it a point to visit the Tower of London. There at the Salt and Martin Tower of the complex, you need to take a closer look at some of the graffiti and you find scratched on the wall, a “Henry Walpole”. Who was he? Well, Henry Walpole was 23 years old that 1st Dec 1581 when he stood watching the execution of a Jesuit priest named Edmund Campion. Henry was born of a Catholic family. As he was caught in the raging whirlpool of religious confusion, he found indecision as to which religious affiliation he should embrace. At Tyburn, as Edmund was hung, drawn and as his body was quartered, a splash of blood from his entrails landed on the coat of Henry Walpole. It was enough to confirm Henry’s vocation to follow in the footsteps of Edmund. Indeed, the blood of martyr is the seed of the faith.

We begin the Triduum of launching our Jubilee Year with a Jesuit saint. It would be nice if we could begin with St Francis but perhaps it is better to start with a martyr as it would allow us to size up the Jubilee proper that we are coming into.

How is the celebration of a Jesuit martyr relevant to a better perspective of the Jubilee? One of the features of the Jubilee consists of fallowing—letting the fields rest. Thus, in its original form, a year of fallowing was a year of allowing life to catch up. Thus, question to ask is how a martyr’s death is relevant to this fallowing?

That St Edmund died a painful death is not disputed. The details surrounding his conversion and later torture leading to his death have already been preached before. However, the death he shared with the other martyrs recalls us to our founding inspiration as Church. The Church was born of persecution, beginning first with her Lord and Master.

In the apostolic Church, a martyr meant a witness who at any time might be called upon to deny what he testified to, under the penalty of death. The career of the Apostles, with the exception of John the Evangelist took this path. And for the next two hundred years since the birth of the Church, martyrdom was the highest form of witnessing. It was only after the 2nd century that the term confessors was used to denote those who professed their faith, even in times of persecution, but they never reached the point of shedding their blood. With Christianity gaining official recognition, official persecution ended reducing the spectre of martyrdom to a distant memory.

In a sense, confessor-ship emerged whenever the Church entered a period of peace. If this period of peace is not analogous to fallowing, at least it does give the idea that confessor-ship is the primary expression of our testimony. But, think of the monastic flight of the early Church. As soon as Constantine made Christianity the official religion of his empire, the instincts of Christians was to flee. They fled from such an unqualified accommodation with the world; an accommodation they felt had blunted their witnessing.

The first reading speaks of the Suffering Servant in reference both to Christ and to St Edmund. This image of the Suffering Servant can also be extended to the Church—she too is a suffering servant. And whilst the Gospel may warn us of not accommodating the world, in actual fact, we have lost our witnessing edge. We shun away from persecution. We have opted for “Christianity Lite”.

This fear of persecution is compounded by a certain false philosophy brought about by the age of the Enlightenment. We are led into a form of rationality which is deterministic. What do I mean by a rationality which is deterministic. Let me give a good example. “You should know better”. The truth is, just because you are clever is not a guarantee that you will do the right thing. Intelligence often has nothing to do with moral behaviour. [1]

In the expression of our faith, we have come to expect that behaviour should commensurate with rationality. For example, we expect the government to uphold the rights of minorities enshrined in the Constitution for that would be a rational act. As a result, in our various encounters with intransigent or pigheaded behaviour of officialdom, we come away with a sense that we have been done to; that we have been victimised. The fact is, the forces of evil will never stop railing against the Church and persecution will exist as long as the Church of Christ stands. St Edmund did not return to England expecting anything less. He expected no less than bearing the full brunt of persecution. We should expect no less.

Somehow, there is a “pyramidal” system which we cannot get away from. The conciliar document Sacrasanctum concilium speaks of the Eucharist as the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. What does that mean? It means that the Eucharist is linked to all the other sacraments we celebrate. It is also supported by the liturgy we celebrate. Furthermore, the Eucharist is connected even to the medal or the scapula that one wears. It is linked to the sign of the Cross one makes. I am not speaking of scrupulosity nor am I referring to superstitious practices. But, what happens when we neglect the other sacraments and we do away with devotional practices because we view them as merely “external” rituals? When we neglect the other sacraments, relativise the sacramentals and downplay our liturgical actions, very soon the Eucharist will become meaningless. It will become very much an empty ritual and thus appropriately celebrated as a meal.

The same pyramidal system may be said of “martyrdom”. It is the supreme act of love for Christ to lay down one’s life. The truth is red martyrdom is inextricably linked to white martyrdom. Remember the “daily offering”? O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day in union with the holy sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I am not referring to rushing in blindly to be massacred but really daring to stand up for our faith. It requires that we put up and bear with real sufferings daily. Otherwise red martyrdom remains an ideal. Perhaps you understand why this church is not air-conditioned; a trend that is taken up by many parishes. There may be legitimate reasons for doing so but here there is a greater didactical reason for not doing so. The heat reminds us that we bear our discomfort in the hope that when bigger suffering should visit us, we may be found ready.

So, what relevance is St Edmund Campion to our Jubilee? Expectations are natural for a year to sail smoothly. But, St Edmund’s death shows us that our basic attitude should be a readiness to suffer for our faith, to stand up where it counts and even to die if we have to. If fallowing should mean anything, it is also a time for preparation, a time to ready ourselves for living our faith. Otherwise, the Jubilee is nothing but a celebration of ourselves, a sort of feel-good “pat on the back” but not a witness of the faith sealed and testified by blood and sacrifice.
[1] This explains so much of our unnecessary anger and frustration. We foolishly expect people to behave according to what they know.