Saints Philip and James, Martyrs
Have you ever been told that you act just like your father? What’s it like to hear that? I imagine it is a good thing to hear if you value the attributes passed on to you. A grateful child will often strive to reflect their father values as a way to honor their lives. This thought came to me today as I contemplated the Scripture passages in today’s readings (May 3, 2021) as The Church remembers and celebrates the lives of Saints Philip and James (The Lesser). These early Saints not only acted like Jesus, the Incarnate Father, they gave their lives in honor of Him. They stand with the other 12 pillars of the early Church as inspiration and encouragement for us as we, too, endeavor to act just like our Father in heaven.
Saint Paul writes to the believers in Corinth an admonition to remember that they have received the Gospel because there were men and women willing to reflect the image of Christ to the world and proclaim His Good News. He writes a mini-lesson on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ emphasizing that the resurrected Christ appeared to the faithful before his ascension into heaven. The passage ends, “After that he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.” I wonder why St. Paul makes a point of mentioning the appearance to the apostle St. James. Perhaps St. James had an impact on St. Paul in his early days as a Christian, who knows!
Saint John records in his gospel an encounter St. Philip had with Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father...” We see here that St. Philip is remembered for his desire to SEE the Father. There’s a theme in these two apostles lives that we can learn from as we live in what we know now as the Apostolic Mission of the Church. The age of Christendom that the apostles gave their lives to establish has eroded under the tide of societal ideologies where the Truth of Christ’s Gospel has “died the death of a thousand qualifications” as Antony Flew once concluded. And now, you and I are called to be the saints-in-the-making for such a time as this, this Apostolic Age version 2 so to speak? How can we, as Saints James and Philip impact society with the Truth of the Gospel?
Recently I came across something what Pope Francis said about the the necessity of “white martyrdom” of those living in countries where freedom of religion is restricted. As we consider our own country and the growing restrictions on religious expression and freedom of speech, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that if we just keep our head down and continue to be a good neighbor, it will be enough to turn the tide against the escalating hatred of The Faith and the freedom to express that Faith here in the United States. Our white martyrdom is upon us, some of us on the frontline of public debate endure the “cancel culture” mindset every time they speak up for the Truth of Christ. They join the martyrs in this Apostolic Mission we are in now in the 21st century. The bloody martyrdom of Saints James and Philip came about because they did not waver in bearing witness to the Truth of the Gospel. Currently white martyrs are being marginalized, slandered and maligned, even imprisoned. Are they losing relationships because of their stand for the Truth of the Gospel? Probably. Does everyone around them cheer them on in their faithfulness to Christ and His Church? Certainly not! Will their lives end in a bloody death? I hope not!
I believe what Pope Francis was getting at in his reference to white martyrdom is a clarion call for you and me. We may not be a well-known apologists or public figure; however, we live our lives alongside neighbors, fellow employees, even family members that would allow the Truth of the Gospel to “die through a thousand qualifications.” If we are going to “look just like our Father” by being transformed into the image of Christ we are going to be confronted with choices every day that require a dying to our sense of self-protection. Do those around us know us for our faithfulness to the social teachings of Christ’s Church? Do we have the moral backbone to honor Christ’s image in us if we are threatened by their rejection or marginalization?
The white martyrdom of believers who face repeated trials in bearing witness to Christ, can be terrifying. When we are tempted to despair over the isolation we may have to endure, we need to remember that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of The Church, and now we must stand up for the Truth they died to protect. We join the company of believers around the world as we stand for this Truth, in doing so we can water The Church with our faithfulness and courage.
Father, grant us the courage of Saints Philip and James. May we make our own white martyrdom as a total offering to You where we not only die to ourselves, the world, and its allurements, but we stand against the tide of our culture’s denial of You.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.