Saint John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues – Readings

Commentary on Hebrews 11:1, 35b-38, 12:1-2; Ps 107; Matthew 16:21, 24-28

The Gospel reading from Matthew is part of Jesus’ first prediction of his Passion to his disciples. He begins by telling them what is going to happen to him – that he must suffer at the hands of the leaders of his own people, be put to death but be raised to life on the third day.
It was an announcement that came as a terrible shock to the disciples. Peter, in the name of all of them, had just made his formal profession of faith in the identity of Jesus – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” It was an exciting moment for all of them and they must have been over the moon. Not only was Jesus the long-awaited Messiah but they were his companions!
Then, in a passage omitted from today’s reading, Peter, doubtless reflecting the shock of all his companions, immediately pulls Jesus aside and says that such things can never happen to the Messiah. It just did not make any sense. Peter must have been even more shocked by the reaction of Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan. You are trying to make me trip and fall.”
Then, as if that was not enough, Jesus continues by telling them that not only will Jesus himself suffer but that anyone who wants to be one of his followers must also accept suffering as an integral part of life with him. “If anyone wishes to come after me, they must deny their very self, take up their cross and begin to follow in my footsteps.” Not take up Jesus’ cross but their own cross – it will be different for each person.
The reason is clear. Trying to protect one’s own life and self-interest leads to nothing. “What profit would a person show if they were to gain the whole world and destroy themselves in the process?” What good is having the world at your feet, if you are a failure as a person? And to be a success in Jesus’ Way is to find true meaning in life by living for others in a spirit of love, service and sharing. When everyone does that, everyone is enriched.
We can see all of this being so clearly played out in the lives of these eight martyrs, who totally dedicated themselves to the people among whom they worked. When danger came, they could have run away but they stayed and died with the people they had chosen as their brothers and sisters.
Their courage and selflessness were awesome. Let us pray that we may be able to have even a little of that courage and selflessness.

The First Reading comes from the Letter to the Hebrews. In chapter 11 the writer speaks about some of the great heroes of the Hebrew Testament. He attributes their achievements to their faith and complete trust in God. And he defines faith as “confident assurance concerning what we hope for and conviction about things we do not see”.
Having spoken about some of the great heroes of the Hebrew Testament, he sums up some of the sacrifices they were prepared to make in affirming their faith. Some “were tortured and would not receive deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death at sword’s point; they went about garbed in the skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented.”
The martyrs we commemorate today also went through sufferings of extraordinary barbarism. As the writer today says: “They were really too good for this world.” How many people would take to flight if asked to undergo even a fraction of their suffering?
So let us take to heart the exhortation with which the writer finishes this passage. “Since we, for our part, are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every encumbrance of sin… and persevere in running the race which lies ahead…” Let Jean and Isaac and his companions help us persevere in our journey of faith.
“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith. For the sake of the joy which lay before him he endured the cross, heedless of its shame. He has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” Jesus, too, went through unspeakable sufferings for us (think of the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the experience of crucifixion) and all to show God’s love for us. Is there anything we would not be ready to give in return for all that he has done for us?
These martyrs never hesitated in their response. “Teach me, Lord, to be generous.”

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