Strength from Eternity for Eternity
June 3, 2020
Memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and his Companions, Martyrs
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and put this question to him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers. The first married a woman and died, leaving no descendants. So the second brother married her and died, leaving no descendants, and the third likewise. And the seven left no descendants. Last of all the woman also died. At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be? For all seven had been married to her.” Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven. As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.”
Opening Prayer: On a day when we remember the suffering of the Ugandan martyrs, I come to you humbly and in my weakness and my need: Enlighten my heart, Lord, and strengthen me for the battle of faith in all the ways it shows up in my daily life. I know that at times my battles are small and apparently inconsequential, but I also know that your love for me is infinite, personal, and real, and so even my smallest battles matter immensely to you. I believe in you, Lord: increase my faith, nourish my hope, and teach me to love as you love.
1. Jesus Absorbs More Attack: Once again, we are presented today with the spectacle of religious leaders–Jewish leaders at the time of Christ–challenging Jesus, trying to trick him, to trap him, to humiliate and discredit him. In this case, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, present Our Lord with one of their clever arguments. Supposedly, they base their disbelief on an Old Testament passage about widows. But Jesus points out, once again, their blind spots. But he doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t stop by showing why their argument is wrong. He goes a step further. He actually opens up another level of theological understanding by showing how one of the most repeated Old Testament phrases–when God calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–reveals the truth about everlasting life: Those who die in friendship with God will continue to enjoy that friendship even after their earthly lives come to an end. Jesus wants the Sadducees to accept his revelation. And so he corrects them, and then he instructs them. Jesus also wants us to accept his revelation, and so he often corrects us, but he also instructs us. How is the Holy Spirit correcting me in this season of my life, and how is he instructing me? And how am I responding—stubbornly, like the Sadducees, or humbly, docilely, and joyfully?
2. The Faithful Witness of Today’s Martyrs: It is interesting to connect Jesus’s discourse about eternal life with the martyrs we celebrate on today’s memorial of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions, known as the Martyrs of Uganda, who gave their lives for Christ in 1886. They, like all Christian martyrs through the centuries, believed so firmly in Christ’s promise of eternal life and resurrection that they refused to give up their faith in Christ even when they were faced with death. Here is their story… The first Catholic missionaries to enter Central Africa were the White Fathers (they dressed in white cassocks, which distinguished them in the eyes of the native peoples from the Protestant missionaries, who wore black), who started their work in 1879. Things went well at first, but when a new local chieftain assumed power, martyrdom was soon to follow. Converts to the faith reprimanded the local ruler, Mwanga, for his crue lty and his vicious sexual habits. Recently baptized Christians who were members of the ruling household spread the faith through their words and examples, such that the young boys who were Mwanga’s favorite victims began to refuse his demands. Egged on by officials who resented the Christian encroachment on power, Mwanga arranged for a general round-up of the Christians. On the eve of their “trial,” St. Charles Lwanga finished instructing a group of young pages (he had been protecting many of them from the king’s wicked advances) and baptized them. The following day, the entire household was lined up in front of the king and the Christians were asked to step forward. Led by Lwanga, fifteen young men (all under the age of twenty-five) boldly did so, inspiring two of the guards to join them. When they pronounced their intention to remain Christians until death, Mwanga responded by sentencing them to be imprisoned and tortured for seven days, after which they w ere burned alive.
3. Staying Strong in the Lord: Just like St. Paul in today’s first reading–who refers to his own sufferings and imprisonment as he writes his encouraging letter to Timothy–the Ugandan Martyrs ended up suffering because of their Christian faith. In a fallen world where the spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil continues to rage on, every single one of us will experience opposition and difficulty–in some form or other–if we strive to be faithful to our friendship with Christ and follow and defend his teaching. As difficult as our Christian journey may be at times, we can always find the strength we need in Christ. We may have to dig deep within our souls to “stir into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6, today’s first reading) we received in baptism and confirmation in order to access that strength, but the effort will be worth it. Because, as St. Paul explained to Timothy, Jesus “saved us and ca lled us to a holy life” (2 Timothy 1:9), and “holiness” is the Bible’s word for the only true and lasting fulfillment we can experience here on earth and forever in heaven.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, thank you for coming into this sin-darkened world and enlightening us with the truth about your plan for us. Thank you for continuing to instruct me through your Word and the wisdom and guidance of your Church. I want to live in and from your truth and your love. I want to believe more and more firmly in all that you have revealed about the true purpose of our lives. I want to learn to “lift up my eyes” (Psalms 123:1, today’s psalm) to you, Lord, in all circumstances, especially the ones that cause me pain and frustration. Teach me and guide me, Lord, on the path of your wisdom and life.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will pause at different times throughout the day to “lift my eyes” to the Lord. I will ask for the grace I need to grow in wisdom and faithfulness. And I will make a visit to a chapel or at least to a sacred image somewhere and pray for all Christians who are suffering persecution.
For Further Reflection: Excerpt from St. Paul VI’s homily for the canonization of the Uganda martyrs: https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/martyrs-of-uganda/.