Martyrdom: A Special Gift of the Spirit
1. "Praise the Lord, O my soul!" (Ps 145 :1).
The invitation of the psalm is made by the Church precisely on the day of the beatification of martyrs who with their blood witnessed to their fidelity to Christ during the French Revolution and at the time of the Spanish Civil War.
Martyrdom is a particular gift of the Holy Spirit: a gift for the whole Church. It culminates in today's beatification liturgy, in which we give glory to God in a special way: "Te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus". God, who through a solemn act of the Church--beatification--crowns their merits, at the same time expresses the gift of grace given to them as the liturgy proclaims: "Eorum coronando merita, tua dona coronas" (Roman Missal, Praefatio de Sanctis I).
2. In these new blesseds Christ is manifested in a particular way: the riches of his paschal mystery, his Cross and Resurrection. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich he has become poor so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9).
Here are the names of the blessed whom today the Church is raising to the glory of the altars, presenting them for the veneration of believers as the mature fruit of the Redeemer's paschal mystery: Anselmo, Felipe, Pedro Ruiz, Jean-Baptiste, Dionisio, Pietro, Carlos Fidel, Jesus, Sr. Angeles, Vicente and all the ranks of their companions in martyrdom.
3. "But as for you, man of God ... aim at faith" (1 Tim 6:11). These words of the Apostle Paul find fulfilment in the new blesseds, Anselmo Polanco, Bishop of Teruel, and Felipe Ripoll, his Vicar General.
Anselmo Polanco, an Augustinian religious, chose as his Bishop's motto: "I will most gladly spend myself and be spent for your souls" (cf. 2 Cor 12:15). As a presentiment, he said on the day he took possession of his Diocese: "I have come to give my life for my flock". This is why, together with Felipe Ripoll, he chose to stay at the side of his flock in the midst of danger and it was only by force that he was taken from them. The new blesseds, before the alternative of abandoning the requirements of the faith, or of dying for it, strengthened by God's grace, put their own destiny in his hands. The martyrs did not defend themselves, not because they thought little of life, but out of their total love of Jesus Christ. Today the inhabitants of Teruel, Palencia and the Augustinians rejoice with the whole Church at this beatification.
4. "But as for you, man of God, ... aim at ... godliness" (1 Tim 6:11). The new members of the Fraternity of Worker Priests of the Heart of Jesus, who with Pedro Ruiz de los Panos y Angel at their head, are beatified today, were martyred for working in harmony with their charism to form future priests, in various seminaries in Spain and Mexico.
Committed with deep priestly spirituality to fostering vocations, continuing the apostolic zeal of Bl. Manuel Domingo y Sol, their life crowned with the palm of martyrdom reminds us of the urgent need for this apostolate.
Pedro Ruiz de los Panos further enriched the Church by founding the Disciples of Jesus, dedicated to the vocations apostolate. Today these women religious deeply rejoice, together with the Church in Castille, Cataluna and the community of Valencia, the native land of the new blesseds.
5. "But as for you, man of God, ... aim at ... steadfastness" (1 Tim 6:11). The Order of the Pious Schools, today contemplates 14 of its members in glory: Fr. Pietro Casani, the first companion of St. Joseph Calasanz, and 13 martyrs of the religious persecution in Spain in 1936.
Pietro Casani, a native of Lucca, joined Joseph Calasanz in 1614 "to educate" Roman children "in piety and letters". Open to love of neighbor and dedicated to the education of poor children, he said before his death: "Much can be accomplished by patience and prayer" (Letter, 22 September 1646).
Dionisio Pamplona and his companion martyrs were not the heroes of a human war, but teachers of youth who, because of their status as religious and teachers, faced their tragic destiny as authentic witnesses to the faith, giving us with their martyrdom the last lesson of their life. May their example and their intercession unite all the Calasanz family!
6. "But as for you, man of God ... aim at gentleness" (1 Tim 6:11). The martyrs of the Society of Mary, Carlos Erana, Fidel Fuido and Jesus Hita, by their faith and dedication to the Christian education of children and young people, followed Christ to the point of sacrificing themselves. AS Marianists they learned how to love Our Lady intensely and throughout their lives sought her special protection.
With gentleness they went to their martyrdom, the supreme act of their surrender to Jesus and Mary, and, like others before them, they died forgiving, thus certain of following in the footsteps of Christ himself. May the ecclesial communities of the Basque country and Rioja, from where the nine blesseds came, and those in Ciudad Real, the land they bathed with their blood, remain steadfast in the faith they lived, taught, and sealed with their martyrdom!
7. "Aim at love" (1 Tim 6:11). Paul's exhortation was fulfilled in the martyrdom of Mother Angeles de San Jose Lloret Marti and 16 Sisters of Christian Doctrine. When the congregation's various communities were dispersed, Mother Angeles de San Jose gathered in a single apartment members who had no families or friends to take them in. There they lived fraternal charity, discovering how persecution, poverty and suffering are all ways that lead to God.
These sisters, practicing what they had so often passed on in teaching catechism, spent their last few months sewing clothes for those who would put an end to their lives. Their death then and their glorification now proclaim the power of the risen Christ and the need to dedicate oneself to the task of evangelization. With them, the communities of Valencia and Cataluna add new names to their martyrology.
8. "But as for you, man of God, ... aim at ... righteousness" (1 Tim 6:11). From his birthplace, Manises, Bl. Vicente Vilar David, who with his martyrdom crowned his life of total dedication to God, to his neighbor and to the promotion of justice in the world of work, in a special way in the School of Ceramics and the center for Social Action, enriched the martyrology of Valencia. His prayer and deep devotion to the Eucharist nourished his whole life, so that his work bore the stamp of God's presence.
The married state, the exercise of one's profession, the activities of lay people are ways that lead to holiness if they are lived with sincerity and evangelical commitment as the requirements of Baptism.
9. This morning, dear brothers and sisters, we are thinking of the 64 French priests who died with hundreds of others on the "decks of Rochefort". As St. Paul exhorted Timothy, they "fought the good fight of faith" (1 Tim 6:12). They also experienced a long calvary for remaining faithful to their faith and to the Church. If they are dead, it is because they did all they could to affirm their close communion with Pope Pius VI.
In deep moral solitude, they endeavored to maintain a spirit of prayer. "Being in torment" (Lk 16:23) of hunger and thirst, they had not a word of hatred for their torturers. They gradually let themselves be identified with the sacrifice of Christ, which they celebrated by virtue of their ordination. Here they offered to our gaze as a living symbol of the power of Christ who acts in human weakness.
At the height of their distress, they maintained their sense of forgiveness. The unity of faith and the unity of their country seemed to them more important than anything else. We can now repeat with joy the words of Sacred Scripture: The souls of the just are in the hands of God. "In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction ... but they are in peace" (Wis 3:2-3).
10. "But as for you, man of God ... shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Tim 6:11-12).
The profession of faith, proclaimed by the new blesseds with the offering of their lives, as the Apostle states, creates special links between each of the witnesses (martyres) and Christ, who was the first witness (Martyr) "before Pontius Pilate" (1 Tim 6:13).
11. Christ himself, the one Lord of all the universe, King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Rev 17:14), is the glory of martyrs. In fact, he "alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16).
"To him be honour and eternal dominion" (ibid.).
To him, who made himself poor for our sake to enrich us with his poverty, be glory and honour in the new blessed martyrs, who today form a new wealth of grace and holiness for the entire Church.
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