SERMON: How Far Have we Gone From the Truth of the Martyrs: Sanguis Martyrum Semen Christianorum?
Sermon by Anonymous Traditional Catholic Priest
(The Vision of Saint Eustace, Other Scenes with Tests of His Faith Beyond by Maarten de Vos)
Sanguis martyrum, semen Christianorum
Brethren in Christ our Lord!
With grateful hearts we gather at the altar of God, to worship Him in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass of All Time; the Mass which unites us with the time of the apostles, saints and martyrs of the early Church – like the martyrs whose feast day we are celebrating today. Among them we commemorate St. Eustace, an amazing saint, who may be a bit forgotten now, as his feast day was made optional in the post-counciliar reform. And yet he was one of the most admired and popular saints since the Middle Ages, whose dramatic life story was known to every generation of Catholics over many centuries.
We know that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians – the growth of the Catholic faith and Church is never possible without martyrdom, so in our times of such crisis of the faith, we need to look to the martyrs and learn from them how to be truly followers of Christ. Christian martyrological tradition tells us that Eustace – whose Roman pagan name was Placidus, was a general under the Roman emperor Trajan. During a hunting trip he encountered a stag with a crucifix glowing between its antlers, and heard God’s voice commanding him to be baptized along with his family on that very night by the Bishop of Rome. Upon receiving baptism, Eustace experienced a mystical vision with a voice warning him of future trials for him and his family. Indeed, unspeakable disasters befell his family, as they lost everything and his wife and children were abducted and accounted for lost. After fifteen years, the family was miraculously reunited and Eustace again commanded a Roman army to victory. The new emperor, Hadrian, however, persecuted Christians and demanded that Eustace offer sacrifices to pagan gods. With great courage, Eustace refused to betray Christ, and with his whole family was thrown into a burning oven.
Brethren, the feast of martyrs poses a challenge to us, Catholics in the western world, enjoying prosperity that makes any thought of martyrdom for the faith almost unreal if not disturbing. For we see what’s been happening with the Church in our times and with the perception of religion in our society. The anthropocentric turn in Theology weakened faith as man has directed his gaze away from God and toward himself. Hedonistic philosophy of life has penetrated into our souls stripping religion of the sacrificial aspect in favor of the therapeutic. Religion has been effectively turned into psychology. As Pope Benedict XVI described it: "So many would like to have a psycho-therapeutic Christianity, demanding nothing and removing the Cross from before our eyes."
The temptation to have faith that is easy and comfortable without self-denial, without the spirit of sacrifice and without the Cross - is literally chewing up the souls of Christians in our time. How far have we gone from the truth of the era of the martyrs: sanguis martyrum semen Christianorum. The Church was born of the blood of Christ and grew on the blood of martyrs shed for Christ. For as the Cross is a scandal and a sign of contradiction, so must be the Church in the world. Christian faith did not grow by “going with the times, but by changing the times” with courage and the spirit of martyrdom.
Saint Eustace and other martyrs understood what following Christ meant, and refused to make any deals with the powers of this world, accepting martyrdom with prayer on their lips. How different winds are blowing in the Church in our time, with many liberal theologians and shepherds striving to transform the Church into a humanitarian non-governmental organization, no longer devoted to upholding the deposit of faith and leading souls to salvation, but rather focused on worldly matters, supporting leftist progressive causes like pacifism, climate and ecology. But a Church that rejects the Cross of Christ to embrace a politically correct religion of humanity would be building not the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of Man. Such a Church would follow the path of perdition. In this context of surrender to the spirit of the world, any notion of martyrdom for Christ’s Truth appears as offensive and dangerous.
However a Church without the spirit of martyrdom loses her soul and becomes a merely human organization. Pope Benedict XVI wrote about it in his last Letter on the Crisis: There are values which must never be abandoned… and even surpass the preservation of physical life. There is martyrdom. God is [about] more than mere physical survival. A life that would be bought by the denial of God, a life that is based on a final lie, is a non-life. Martyrdom is a basic category of Christian existence. The fact that martyrdom is no longer morally necessary in the theories advocated by many theologians shows that the very essence of Christianity is at stake here. Pope Benedict is proclaiming the truth of faith that Saint Eustace and other martyrs understood very well: there is no Christian life, no Church, without the spirit of martyrdom. For it would mean that Christ and salvation are not worth sacrificing for; that in effect we are buying our life by the denial of God. This is the great temptation of the Church today–to kneel before the world, rather than before Christ.
Brethren in Christ our Lord! With grateful hearts we gather at the altar of God, to worship Him in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass of All Time; the Mass which unites us with the time of the apostles, saints and martyrs of the early Church – like the martyrs whose feast day we are celebrating today. The Christian martyrs, like St. Eustace gave their lives by the denial of the world and affirmation of their fidelity to Christ. May we pray for the grace to remain faithful to Christ and to have the spirit of martyrdom in our souls. As our hearts cry out: Saint Eustace and companion martyrs - pray for us; pray for the Church. Amen.