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Vatican Basilica
Saturday, 29 October 2005


"The greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Mt 23: 12).

At the end of Jesus' discourse that we have just listened to, we can find the sense of the Gospel and possibly also of the entire Liturgy of the Word for this Sunday.

Chapter 13 of St Matthew's Gospel records a string of invectives against the Scribes and Pharisees on the lips of the one Teacher, Christ, meek and humble of heart, that are so strong as to prompt amazement if not even dismay.

In any case, Jesus, rather than concerning himself with individuals, intends to target the practices of the Pharisees as a spiritual illness that can attack persons and institutions in all ages.

Jesus sets against the negative picture of an empty, formalistic religiosity characterized by a cruel legalism, dominated by men greedy for power, honour and success, the vision of a radically different community. The picture Jesus presents is one of a community where greatness is proportional to humility and where a person gets ahead or "makes a career", so to speak, thanks to the impulse of charity. In light of what Jesus teaches, we can easily understand the arduous, demanding journey that must be made by Jesus' disciples, including those who today are inscribed in the roll of the Blesseds.

Jesus had before his eyes the spectacle of the Scribes and Pharisees: they were experts in Sacred Scripture and assiduously frequented the Temple, but their hearts were cold, icy, unchanged by the encounter with God. In a word, they were fakes!

Consequently, Jesus seriously reproves them and challenges them with the fact that they were very strict with others but on the contrary, most lenient with themselves: "They bind up heavy loads, hard to carry, to lay on other men's shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them" (Mt 23: 4).

Saints, on the other hand, do the exact opposite: they are hard on themselves but understanding and patient with others, always seeking to forgive.

This is exactly what we find in the lives of the Blesseds Joseph Tàpies Sirvant and his six companion-martyrs and of Bl. Mary of the Angels Ginhard Martì, who were humble, hard-working servants of their neighbour who took upon themselves the burdens of others.

In the first reading, the Prophet Malachi presents the Lord as the great King who has drawn up a covenant with the priests, his ministers who, however, betrayed him (cf. Mal 2: 4; 8). Not only did the seven martyrs who are being beatified today, priests of the Diocese of Urgell - Joseph Tàpies Sirvant, Pascal Araguás Guárdia, Silvester Arnau Pasqüet, Joseph Boher Foix, Francis Castells Brenuy, Peter Martret Moles and Joseph John Perot Juanmartí -, not betray the Lord; on the contrary, they tirelessly defended the Kingdom of God throughout their lives. They carried out their ministry as parish priests or priests dedicated to pastoral work in the Parish of Pobla de Segur and the neighbouring districts, giving themselves without reserve to the task of evangelization and zealously achieving the sanctification of the people entrusted to their care.

They crowned their fidelity to Jesus Christ to the point of shedding their blood for him when, in their last hour on that 14 August 1936, walking past the firing squad in single file, they all cried out to God in one voice: "Long live Christ the King!".

A few days later, Sr Angela Mary of the Angels Ginard Martí of the Congregation of the Zealous Sisters of Eucharistic Adoration, perfected her consecration to Jesus Christ by offering her life, cut short by the firing squad at Dehesa de la Villa, near Madrid. Bl. Mary of the Angels was an exemplary Religious. Among her other virtues, she was distinguished by love for the Most Holy Eucharist and the Rosary and by her special devotion to the early Christian martyrs whom she venerated.

In the second reading of this Holy Mass, St Paul the Apostle writes to the Thessalonians: "We were as gentle as any nursing mother fondling her little ones" (I Thes 2: 7). These words can aptly be applied to the new Blessed's deeply charitable attitude to her neighbour, starting with her Sisters in religion and the poor, for whom she felt a truly evangelical predilection.

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa (28 June 2003), Pope John Paul II, whom we recall with affection and veneration, held up to everyone "so that it will never be forgotten" that great sign of hope represented by the many witnesses to the Christian faith who lived in both East and West, "who found suitable ways to proclaim the Gospel amid situations of hostility and persecution, often even making the supreme sacrifice by shedding their blood" (n. 13).

Today, the Church responds to this invitation never to forget the witnesses of Christian faith - the martyrs, especially those of the past century - by offering us the example of people such as Joseph Tàpies Sirvant and his six companions, secular priests, and of Mary of the Angels Ginard Martí, a woman religious, setting them on a stand where they give light to the whole house (cf. Mt 5: 15).

The 20th century has been described as "the century of martyrdom" (Andrea Riccardi, Il secolo del martirio, ed. A. Mondadori, Milan, 2000), as history has proven. Despite its barbarity and virulence, the violent persecution unleashed in Spain with the intention of destroying the Church was only an episode, albeit a ferocious one, of what the biblical Book of Revelation calls "the great period of trial" (Rv 7: 14). John Paul II wrote on this: "At the end of the second millennium, the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs" (Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, n. 37).

In fact, the Church's great period of trial in the 20th century to which a countless number of victims fell prey - most of whom disappeared without leaving a trace - has also bequeathed to us the names of many whom the Church, with motherly care, raises to the honour of the altars.

We should bear in mind that it is not only a question of keeping alive in the Church the memory of the martyrs. Above all, it is a question of understanding and putting in its proper light the meaning of Christian martyrdom. which over and above anything else is the most authentic sign that the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, that she is the Church he desired and founded and in which he is present.

Unfortunately, in the Church which consists of human beings, sinners are not lacking, especially when her members fail to comply with the precept of charity that is essential and a top priority for Christians. This gives rise to an anti-witness to Jesus Christ.

The vast crowds of martyrs testify with their blood to the Church's fidelity to Jesus Christ because, although she consists of sinners, she is at the same time a Church of martyrs, that is to say, authentic Christians who lived out their faith in Christ and his love for his brethren, including his enemies, to the point of sacrificing not only their lives but also, frequently, their honour. They were forced to bear tremendous humiliations and were also accused of being traitors and charlatans.

Christian martyrdom clearly proclaims that God, the person of Jesus Christ, faith in him and fidelity to his Gospel are the highest values of human life, to the point that they deserve the sacrifice of our lives.

The martyrs did not hesitate to die for the faith in times of bloody persecution. What is their message to us Christians today in our daily lives?

They remind us that we must live our faith to the full, not only in its personal and private dimensions but in responsible social behaviour, since we are duty bound to effectively promote and safeguard the values at the very root of a coexistence based on justice, such as life, the family and the inalienable right of parents to educate their children.

Considering that martyrs are poor and humble people who spent their lives in charitable works and suffered and died forgiving their executioners, we are facing a reality that exceeds the human level and forces us to understand that only God can concede the grace and strength of martyrdom. Thus, Christian martyrdom is an especially eloquent sign of God's presence and action in human history.

St Augustine said: "Non vincit nisi veritas" (the truth alone is triumphant), hence, man does not triumph over man nor even persecutors over their victims, despite appearances. In the case of Christian martyrs such as the new Blesseds of today, in the end it is truth that prevails over error, for as the Holy Doctor of Hippo concluded: "Victoria veritatis est caritas", that is, the victory of truth is charity (Sermon 358, 11).

Dear brothers and sisters, our contemporary world needs more than ever to understand the great lesson of these visible witnesses to Christian love, because only love is credible.

For "poor Christians", which basically we all are, the martyrs are an incentive to live the Gospel seriously and in its entirety, facing with courage the small and large sacrifices which Christian life, lived in fidelity to Jesus' words and example, normally entails.

Martyrs are the most authentic imitators of Jesus in his passion and his death. This is why the Church has always regarded them as Jesus' truest disciples, has honoured their memory and has pointed them out to Christians in every age as models to be imitated.

In the journey of history, often dark for the Church, the martyrs are the great light that best reflects the One towards whom she "presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God" (Lumen Gentium, n. 8), Our Lord Jesus Christ.