This coming Monday, June 22nd, marks the memorial of two English martyrs who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, which purported to make the King head of the Church in England instead of the Pope. The king’s desire to form a new Church rose out of his disagreement with the Pope’s refusal to grant an annulment of his marriage. When King Henry VIII tried to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon, Bishop John Fisher appeared in court on her behalf, where he declared that, like John the Baptist, he was ready to die on behalf of the indissolubility of marriage. Sir Thomas More, who had resigned as the King’s Chancellor (right-hand man), likewise followed his conscience and defended the teachings of the Catholic Church. Thomas More and now Cardinal (he was made one while in prison] John Fisher remained faithful to the Catholic Church. For this, they were both beheaded.
On June 24th, we celebrate the Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded by King Herod for telling the king that, based on the teachings of the Scriptures, it was wrong for him to have divorced his wife so he could marry his brother’s wife. Those two men gave their lives in order to maintain the integrity of the truth of their beliefs.
Today, we celebrate Father’s Day, when we honor some other special men in our lives who try their best (especially under some trying circumstances) to live lives as “men of faith” -– our ‘unsung heroes.’ Appropriately, this Sunday’s Gospel reading, according to Matthew, has Our Lord addressing His disciples and providing them with guidance in their task of preaching about the faith and the good news of the kingdom of heaven.
At times, some passages of Scripture may be more difficult to connect with our lives, but I think today’s passage is very fitting for those men who want to be disciples of Our Lord and to follow His call in their lives. All of us are bound to face some of the same challenges that the disciples did in the early Church, especially the men who find themselves on the bottom of the totem pole because of the distorted image of family life that today’s society presents.
To help our understanding of the application of our Scriptural passage, three salient points can be made. The first is Our Lord’s admonition to fear no one. Just as many members of the early Church refused to hide their faith for fear of persecution, so, too, we must not hide our faith by caving-in to societal pressures and succumbing to the culture of the world in which we live. Like the men mentioned in the opening sentences of today’s message, we should instead focus on the world that is yet to come, and how we must live out truth and love on a daily basis so that we become worthy of our heavenly Father.
The next is to recognize that we are precious in the eyes of God. In the earliest missionary activity of the Church, there certainly were threats that Christ’s disciples faced when they went out to spread the message of Christ to all peoples. As we know, through their faith and reliance on God’s protection, the overall mission of the Church succeeded. While some of the disciples made the ultimate sacrifice for the faith, that of martyrdom, their faith in God turned their physical death into eternal life. In our lives, too, we must identify the things that lead us closer to Christ and His Church, and distinguish them from those things which would lead us astray. We may not suffer martyrdom, but must at times choose to die to ourselves and things of this world so that Our Lord might lead us to eternal life with Him.
A final point connecting Jesus’ teachings to our lives today is his message that everyone who acknowledges Him before others, He will acknowledge before the Father. We need to remember to invite Our Lord into our lives each day, so that we can acknowledge Him in our words and deeds. When we live out true Christian discipleship, we will naturally spread the word of God to those around us, and so we will be like the disciples of the early Church, who acknowledged Our Lord before others. It’s through a growing relationship with Christ, as His disciples, that we will be able to grow in our relationships with one another in our parish.