Today is the feast of the Korean marytrs, St. Andrew Kim Taegon and his companions. These brave martyrs brought the Sacraments to the people of Korea in the 19th century, and their witness continues to bring people to the Sacraments today. Fr. Steve Grunow explains in today's homily.
The Catholic Faith was introduced to the people of Korea by laypeople. The first clergy did not arrive until 1836 and they found a Catholic community waiting for them that had been for years sustained by attentiveness to a simple catechism and popular devotions. The arrival of priests, who provided access to the Sacraments, particularly the Blessed Sacrament, was the fulfillment of their greatest hopes.
Yet, many of the nobility of Korea viewed Catholicism with suspicion and these suspicions led to repression and persecution. It became a criminal offense to profess and practice and Catholic Faith. A young boy by the name of Andrew Kim Taegon, witnessed for himself the dreadful cost the Catholics of Korea were willing to pay for their profession of faith. Andrew Kim watched as his father was arrested and brutally killed. His crime? He was a Catholic...
Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. In the case of relics and incorruptibles, not to mention other Catholic-y things, this very often rings true. St. Januarius, whose feast we celebrate today, is one such case. Fr. Damian Ference gives a riveting account of his martyrdom and the miraculous occurrences surrounding St. Januarius' most famous relic.
If you think Catholicism is a little weird, then you’re in for a real treat. Today the Church celebrates St. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples and of blood banks, and his strange story is one of the best.
Januarius, affectionately known as San Gennaro, was the bishop of Benevento. Along with his six companions – Festus, Desiderius, Sossus, Proculus, Euticius, and Acutius – Januarius was arrested during the Christian persecution of Diocletian in 305. The young bishop and his faithful friends were thrown to the lions, but the beasts weren’t hungry. The felines wouldn’t touch the seven men. (I often wonder how the soldiers and the crowds responded when this sort of thing happened. Did they yell at the lions? “Eat! Eat those awful Christians! Come on, they taste so good!” Or did some of them get scared and sense that these Christians might really be onto something?) Eventually, the soldiers decided to simply kill the men themselves. They chopped off their heads.
Now here’s where things get interesting. Christians, because of their belief in the resurrection of the body, go to great lengths to assure the proper burial of a body. Just as Joseph of Arimathea asked for Jesus’ body after his death on the cross, some of the faithful would have requested the bodies (and heads) of Januarius and his six companions. Someone who was part of that group decided to collect some of Januarius’ blood. The martyr’s blood was transferred into an ampoule – a small glass vial used to preserve a liquid – which made its way to Naples. The bishop’s bones are buried in the crypt of the cathedral. The ampoule still contains some of his dried blood...
Today is the Feast of St. Charles Lwanga, the 19th century Ugandan martyr burned at the stake for refusing to renounce his Christianity. Today we share a Father Barron commentary from 2010 about Lwanga wherein he talks about the saint's legacy in his country and throughout the African continent, as well as martyrdom's curious habit of not quieting Christianity, but instead making the message even louder.
We're no strangers to the lore of the martyrs: their sacrifice, their bravery, their unshakable beliefs. But why do it? What is the incentive, the allure? Word on Fire contributor Jared Zimmerer examines the appeal of martyrdom and why it's not only something we crave but something we can do.
Throughout history, men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe. Whether that cause is for the good nature of faith, freedom and family or the ever promising yet always short-lived notions of money, grandeur and worldly honor, people tend to find the sacrifice worth the fatal end. The history of the Catholic Faith is riddled with servants of Christ who have endured and glorified some of the worst physical pains known to man. Without knowledge of the good they died for, their sacrifice seems not only vain, but idiotic. However, the transcendent characteristic of their deaths, which can only make sense to those willing to search for it, brands the gruesome scenes worthy of celebration.
One of my favorite paintings, the Last Judgment fresco by Michelangelo seen in the Sistine Chapel, depicts a few of the more popular saints in the way in which they were martyred. There is St. Lawrence with his grate and St. Bartholomew with his knife and flayed skin, St. Andrew with his cross, St. Sebastian holding up the arrows with which he was shot, St. Blaise with his wool combs and St. Catherine with her wheel. These martyrs are put upon pedestals through Church history because mankind recognizes their sacrifice. But could that recognition go further than just human admiration? Could it be perhaps that we were made to “die with our boots on” so to speak?...