While preparing for this reflection, my Aunt Ciony (Mom’s youngest sister) posted a table on Facebook showing how the Apostles died. The table showed the name of the apostles, and on the opposite side, the manner of their deaths. It’s interesting to note that, except for St. John the Beloved, all of them died by execution and hence, martyrdom. From St. Peter, who asked to be crucified upside down, in respect to the Savior’s crucifixion, up to St. Thaddeus, who was stoned, all of them gladly gave up their lives for the faith. Their deaths were brutal, characteristic of the times they lived. They were not alone: many followed their footsteps, including our very own Filipino saints, St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod. Even up to now, my hair always stand on end, recalling the intense love our honored saints have for our Savior Jesus Christ, that their lives are worth giving up, to gain eternity. Moments after I shared that table on my wall, my nephew Ariel commented:
“I wonder how long would a list be for Saints. I would imagine it being difficult to gather that much data and organizing it into columns that would describe not only of their deaths …”
To do that would be close to impossible, as there was a time in history that many martyrs and saints passed away without being recognized as such. So while every person who is canonized is a saint, not every holy person has been canonized. You have probably known many “saints” in your life, and you are called by God to be one yourself. So then, what do the saints possess that they willingly followed the Savior, some even unto death? Following the Lord may not necessarily require that we die a martyr’s death, but what is sure is that we must live virtuous lives, one that is holy and pleasing to Him. Our ordinary lives are filled with challenges that if we respond virtuously, generously and consistently, can make people like us, reflections of Our Lord and Savior. This is not only for the sake of being “saints”, but because our country, for us to progress sustainably and with dignity, and for our children to learn the lessons that sadly, our present generation, is badly wanting.
A good example is what is labeled the PDAF scandals. The people who we voted and who have sworn to protect us are the same people who robbed us of funds that otherwise would have been better spent for healthcare, food production, infrastructure improvements, environmental protection, resource conservation, etc. We have seen how leaders have failed us in ways such that they stole instead of using common funds for the greater good. We don’t even have to look far, as we can see common examples, like on the road, drivers queuing to take the U-turn, we can see other drivers take the farthest right lane and take the U-turn at the last moment, in order to evade the line and go there faster. Or even at the cafeteria, we can see others who go the front of the line to pretend to talk with a friend who queued ahead, and then just slide into the line, oblivious of the others who took the time to line up. Or what about the undeclared income so that we pay only the minimum community tax certificate?
We’ve also heard countless stories about people who were paid to vote for particular candidates in the last elections. When I went down south a short while back, listening to friends talk about how candidates allocate a big part of their election budget to buy votes, made me tremble. Years before, those were just stories and yet now, it is something that seems to be a practice needed to win elections. Is this true everywhere? I don’t know. But nonetheless, this is really very sad.
Given this grim scenario of the situation around us, is it possible then, to live lives holy and pleasing to the Lord? It is natural for us, being humans, to be fearful of what will happen. Fear, anxiety, worry, all these confront us. However, our Lord has also assured that He will give us the peace of mind that we seek: “Peace is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace. Do not be distressed or fearful.” (John 14:27, The NAB). He also told us to be brave: “Be brave and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the Lord, your God, who marches with you; He will never fail you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Yes, to be able to meet the different challenges of our lives, we ought to have the courage to speak boldly and practice our faith. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, asserts the correspondence of the seven Capital Virtues, with the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: the gift of fortitude, corresponds to the virtue of courage. With the gift of fortitude, we become courageous and overcome our fears and are willing to take risks as followers of Jesus Christ. A person with courage is willing to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting rejection, verbal abuse, or physical harm. The virtue of courage allows people the firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil (Catechism of the Catholic Church). No wonder then that our saints and heroes calmly faced adversity, and even death! And they were happy doing it!
Heroes are a rare breed today, which is why we rejoice when we see one. However, we don’t have to die to be one. We don’t have to look for martyrdom to become one. Life is so full of challenges that after reading this, you will possibly be confronted with one or even more. No matter how small it is, the issue we will be facing will either help us become better or become worse. We only have to set back, focus on the issue at hand, and ask ourselves, “If He is confronted this same issue, what would Jesus do?” “What response will be most pleasing to Him?”
Our response then is we only have to practice living our faith, especially when confronted with difficult situations and adversities. The next time the temptation to violate traffic rules confront us, let us be brave to wait for our turn, even if it means we’ll be late for office or our appointments. We just have to drive earlier the next time, to provide allowance for heavy traffic and unforeseen circumstances.
Moments after I read my nephew’s comments, I posted back: “yes Ariel! God’s love is so awesome and so deep that the Saints know that dying for the Lord is not even enough, that most of them would gladly give a “thousand lives” back to Him!” (in reference to St. Lorenzo Ruiz).
In this Year of the Laity, the Filipino Catholic Laity have been “Called to be Saints… sent forth as Heroes”. Instead of crowing in fear, may we always remember the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)