16 November 2009. Memorial of Sts. Roque Gonzalez, Juan del Castillo, Alonso Rodriguez, Jesuit martyrs
1 Mc 1: 10-63; Psalm 119; Luke 18, 35-43
In the memorial of the above Jesuit martyrs, the Scripture passage today in the Common of Holy Men in the Liturgy of the Hours summarizes the points of the readings at mass: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12, 2).
The first reading tells us of the Maccabean family who decided to rebel against the forced Hellenizing of Judaism by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Antiochus needed money to finance his military endeavors and to unite the people under his rule for defensive purposes. He forbade the practice of Judaism and wanted the people to worship Zeus in the temple itself. So he plundered the temple in Jerusalem in 167 BC. The reading draws our attention to the Maccabean family who remained faithful to God and to the Law despite persecutions and constant threats. Their loyalty to the faith caused them their lives.
The Gospel today is about the blind man on the road to Jericho. He wanted Jesus to heal him. So he shouted with all his might, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” However, he was ridiculed by the crowd including the disciples, for creating a stir among them. They do not want an “insignificant” person to bother Jesus. Because of his perseverance, he got what he yearned for: Jesus healed him because of his faith. The Gospel draws our attention to the least and the lost on whose faith and example we are to follow.
The memorial of Jesuit saints and martyrs Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz, Alphonsus Rodríguez and Juan del Castillo speak of the same theme. They were architects of the Jesuit reductions in Paraguay. The reductions, from the verb “reducir” is a Jesuit way in the missions: they worked with the Guarani people who lived along the Paraguay and Pilcomayao rivers. The Jesuits would like to bring the Guarani to live in towns. At the small mission of St. Ignatius, Roque Gonzalez supervised the construction of houses, the public square, the school and the church. The reductions spread to Uruguay, Southern Brazil and Panama. To them they focused on the “insignificant” in society and empowered them. The cost, like the Maccabees, was their lives: they were bludgeoned to death by religious leaders and killed in the very chapel they built for the people. Their stories here.
The context on which these faithful people lived may not exist in the same form today. But if we look more closely, the Christian faith is besieged by several groups who would like to force us to accept their convictions even if it is contrary to our faith. Let’s put it more bluntly. If you are a Catholic, you will be ridiculed by those who are not. If you are a faithful practicing Catholic, the ridicule may come not just from the first group, but from within the ranks. If you are a catechist or a teacher of the faith, it is very challenging to draw attention to religion. You have to shout louder like the blind man because people do not want to be bothered. You have to keep the attention of your audience who are already attracted to the present culture; who do not think faith is more important than one’s work, studies or relationships. Case in point: the top reason why many do not come to Sunday mass is that they’re tired from the party the night before; or that they are to study for the next day’s quiz — as if it’s the fault of the mass schedule. It is indeed difficult to keep the faith.
But who said that Christianity is suppose to be easy? No one. Jesus never said that we will be comfortable in practicing it. He never said that we have to compromise the faith in order to keep the peace, to please people, or to have a comfortable life. So what’s keeping you here?