June 3rd, 2002 Monday of the 9th week "B"

Ugandan Martyrs

Holy Cross Abbey, Whitland, Wales

 

H O M I L Y

 

The first reading contains one of the most powerful texts of the New Testament concerning our call to holiness. Peter actually says that we are called to partake in the divine nature. This sharing in divine nature is not, however, something that is given once for all. Although it is a pure gift, it has to be assumed through a gradual transformation that goes from faith to love, passing through discernment, virtue, self-control, piety, and care for our brothers. This partaking of the divine nature is what Paul calls "to be transformed into the likeness of Christ".

 

Now, Christ loved his own to the end and that meant for him accepting death. Jesus' message was a threat to the authority and the power of the chief priests, the scribes and the elders, and therefore they decided to get rid of him. He knew that; and in today's gospel, he announces that it will happen and why it will happen. It will happen because they want to act as owners of the inheritance of which they are only stewards. It is not Jesus' message of love that they hate. They hate the fact that Jesus' message puts an end to their own exercise of power.

 

During the two thousand years of the history of the Church, many have died for their faith in Christ and for their fidelity to his message. We celebrate today the Ugandan Martyrs who have illustrated so beautifully and so powerfully the beginning of the Evangelization of Africa in our time. And yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the burial of our brothers of Tibhirine.

 

The nature of martyrdom has always been the same, but the motivations of the killers have changed during the centuries, although it is always a question of preserving "power". During the first centuries of the Church Christians were killed in hate of the faith because their faith put in question the traditional Roman religion upon which the whole Roman political and military system reposed. Their faith was a threat to society. The situation was similar in Africa at the time of the Ugandan martyrs. The new religion was a threat to the traditional religion upon which the whole structure of power of the local king reposed. Nowadays, in many parts of the world, the situation is quite different. Christianity is not perceived usually as a threat to other religions. The martyrs of our time, including our Tibhirine brothers, are killed because they have sided with the poor and the oppressed and because their way of life is a threat to those who want to control society through power and are ready to eliminate whoever is an obstacle to their exercise of power.

 

In a way, today's martyrs, although it is generally impossible to prove that they were killed out of hate for their faith, are closer than ever to Christ in the way they are confronted with death. Jesus was not put to death explicitly because of his teaching, but simply because the way he lived and what he taught was a treat to the religious power of the Elders and the Pharisees and to the civil power of Herod and Pilate. In the same way people who kill missionaries nowadays really don't care about religion either Christian, Muslim or other. They care only about their power. And people like our brothers of Tibhirine, are killed simply because the simple way in which they continue to live the Gospel values of love in a society torn apart by violence becomes a terrible nuisance.

 

In today's Gospel, the son of the owner of the vineyard shares the same destiny as all the servants that were sent before him. In the same way our Brothers of Tibhirine shared the same destiny as the tens of thousands Algerians, Muslims and Christians who were also killed because they embodied the same values of non violence in their lives or simply because they were, in a way or other, an obstacle to the same thirst for power. And they died because they did not want to be separated from them. Let's keep them united in our memory.

 

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READING I 2 Pt 1, 2-7

 

A reading from the second letter of Peter

 

May grace be yours and peace in abundance through your knowledge of God and of Jesus, our Lord.

That divine power of his has freely bestowed on us everything necessary for a life of genuine piety through knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. By virtue of them he has bestowed on us the great and precious things he promised, so that through these you who have fled a world corrupted by lust might become sharers of the divine nature. This is reason enough for you to make every effort to undergird your virtue with faith, your discernment with virtue, and your self-control with discernment. This self-control, in turn, to piety, and piety to care for your brother, and care for your brother, to love.

 

 

GOSPEL Mk 12, 1-12

 

Jesus began to address the chief priests, the scribes and the elders once more in parables: "A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug out a vat, and erected a tower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. In due time he dispatched a man in his service to the tenants to obtain from them his share of produce from the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him, and sent him off empty handed. The second time he sent them another servant; him too they beat over the head and treated shamefully. He sent yet another and they killed him. So too with many others: some they beat; some they killed. He still had one to send -- the son whom he loved. He sent him to them as a last resort, thinking, 'They will have to respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'Here is the one who will inherit everything. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' Then they seized and killed him and dragged him outside the vineyard. What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do? He will come and destroy those tenants and turn his vineyard over to others. Are you not familiar with this passage of Scripture:

'The stone rejected by the builders

has become the keystone of the structure.

It was the Lord who did it

and we find it marvelous to behold'?"

They wanted to arrest him at this, yet they had reason to fear the crowd. (They knew well enough that he meant the parable for them.) Finally they left him and went off.