Third Sunday After Epiphany – The Eyes of the World Are on You
My dear children: In to-day’s gospel we find two men sorely afflicted who in their distress had recourse to Jesus. And not secretly, or by night, did they come to the Lord of All; they made an open profession of their faith before all the people. Like them we must not only bear our Catholic faith in our hearts, but must profess it publicly.
It is our duty to declare our faith before public authorities, if they have a just cause for asking us concerning it. We have a grand example by our Lord Himself when the high priest asked Him whether He was the Son of God, He answered unhesitatingly: ‘Thou hast said it,” although He knew that His confession would deliver Him to death. The Apostles imitated the example of their Master, and the martyrs of every age have followed in His footsteps.
In the year 1833, a violent persecution was raised against the Church by the tyrant Minh-Menh, king of Tong-Quin and Cochin China. Many Christians were put to death, but in all their torments they exhibited the most heroic constancy. Even little children offered themselves without demur to the judges.
One day, a little boy, ten years old, presented himself at the dread tribunal. Throwing himself on his knees before the judge he asked the judge permission to speak. “Mandarin,” said he, “give me a cut with the sabre that I may go to my own country.” “Where is your country?” asked the judge wonderingly. “It is in heaven,” replied the child. “But where are your parents?” “They are gone to heaven, and I want to follow them. Give me a stroke with the sabre and send me there.” The mandarin, struck with admiration at the faith and courage of the child, refused to grant his request, yet we may well believe that in after years this generous confessor of the faith took his place among the noble band of martyrs who have since stained the soil of Tong-Quin with the continuous stream of their blood.
You must confess your faith whenever the honor of God demands it. Such is the case when you prevent words and actions detrimental to God’s glory. Tell those who laugh at you when you make the sign of the cross that everything the Catholic Church teaches is sacred to you.
For your soul’s salvation you must make many a sacrifice. If you are employed by a non-Catholic and he obliges you to attend a Protestant church, rather leave his employ than consent. If a stranger places meat before you on a Friday and asks you why you refuse to eat it, you must say: “I am a Catholic.”
In the early days of the Church there lived a little boy whose name was Vitus. From the first moment that he was capable of doing so, he loved God with all his heart, and many times a day did his infant lips attest this love. When the Emperor heard of the child-Christian and his great fervor, he was very angry; but he solaced himself with the thought that he could easily make Vitus renounce his faith, because he was so young. So one day he sent for him.
“My dear child,” he said to him in the most winning tones, “I’m going to give you gold and jewels, and splendid garments, and everything your heart desires, if only you will change your religion, renounce your faith and blaspheme Jesus Christ.”
But the boy answered: “Jesus Christ is my Master and my Saviour; He died for me upon the cross. I will never say one word that may offend Him, and with my whole heart I will always love Him.”
“Very well, then,” rejoined the Emperor, exasperated, “if you will not obey my orders, I will cast you into a caldron of boiling oil. Make your choice, at once, between the pleasures I offer and the torments I threaten.”
Yet the child was not dismayed by anger or vain threat. With a courage born of heaven, he calmly answered: “Not only will I cheerfully suffer that torment, but I am willing to die the most cruel death rather than deny the Faith of Jesus Christ.”
Immediately the Emperor gave orders that the caldron should be prepared. When the oil began to boil, he said to the executioners: “Take off his clothes now and throw him in.” They did as they were told, but the holy martyr suffered this awful torture without a murmur. As he stood in the caldron, he raised his hands and eyes to heaven, and said: “Lord Jesus, receive my soul.”
When he had said these words, angels were seen coming down from heaven, and placing a beautiful crown upon his head, they put a green palm-branch—the sign of victory—in his hands and carried his precious soul to the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ.
You may not have to suffer death for your faith, my children, as St. Vitus did, but you may have to suffer much persecution throughout your life because you are a Catholic. Be faithful then, and when God’s time comes, angels will carry your soul also to God’s judgment-seat, where you will be received by your Divine Master in the same loving manner as St. Vitus was, and obtain the same reward.
Boys and girls in all walks of life should profess their faith and thereby strengthen those who are weak in their belief or wavering. It is a strict obligation of your fathers and mothers to give a good example that you may be firm in your faith. The venerable Eliazar, chief of the Scribes, and a very old man, preferred death to deception. He would not deny his faith nor would he be guilty of any bad example he might give to his grown-up sons.
There are many who from human respect deny their religion by not defending it. Such persons merit God’s displeasure. They prefer the friendship of men to that of God.
St. Martin of Tours, while yet a youth, was travelling over the Alps, when he fell into the hands of robbers, one of whom drew his sword and held it suspended over his head, as if about to inflict a mortal blow. He would have killed him, had not his companion stayed his hand. The holy youth showed no symptom of fear, but recommended himself entirely to the protection of Divine Providence. The robbers, struck with astonishment at his calmness in so imminent a danger, asked him who he was, and whether he was not filled with fear at the sight of the sword uplifted to slay him? He replied that he was a Christian, and that he had no fear, because he knew that the Divine Goodness is always most ready to protect us, and that it is never nearer to us than when we are exposed to the greatest dangers. He added that he was only grieved at the life they led which deprived them of the mercy of God. The robbers listened to him with astonishment, and admired his confidence in God. His fervent words made a deep impression upon their hearts, and he who had attempted to kill him became a Christian.
Guard carefully against neglect of the duties of religion, that you may not be a stumbling-block to your fellow men. Let us remember our Lord’s words : “Whosoever shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven.”