[Homily: First Friday. June 3, 2022.]
From the side of the Crucified Lord flowed water and blood. From the side of the Crucified Lord flowed the Church. From the side of the Crucified Lord, St. John Chrysostom said, flowed the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist, that is, the Church.
Today, we celebrate the one Paschal Mystery in time, and celebrate aspects of it one by one: the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Suffering and Death of the Lord on Good Friday, his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, his Ascension on Ascension Thursday or the Sunday after, and Pentecost, ten days after the Ascension, this coming Sunday. In Ordinary Time we celebrate the Church. But the Lord before he suffered, died, and rose again, said he needed to return to his Father’s house to prepare a place for us, and in order to be able to send us the Holy Spirit.
The ends of the Earth in the West.
The Spirit would remind the young Christian communities of all the Lord had taught us. It would guide the development of the early Church that grew from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter preached to Jewish Christians in and around Jerusalem.
Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles. Towards the end of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear in our First Reading for today, Paul needed to defend himself against “the Jews” in Jerusalem before the new Roman Governor Porcius Festus and before the King of Judea, Herod Agrippa I. It was by “appealing to Caesar” that Paul escaped murder in Jerusalem and was sent as a prisoner to Rome where even as a prisoner he was able to preach the Gospel in what was for Luke at the ends of the earth.
Historically, it is uncertain how Paul died. Some say he was martyred – beheaded – under the brutal Roman Emperor, Nero. But Paul wished to bring the Gospel further east, to Spain. If he was not martyred in Rome, he may even have reached there! Through his life mission, marked by travail and persecution and directed by the Holy Spirit, the small sect of Jewish believers in Christ was transformed into a world religion which changed the course of human history.
The Apostle of the Gentiles traveled West, “to the ends of the earth.”
The ends of the Earth in the East
Reflecting on this, we may consider that we are at the opposite “ends of the Earth” in the East. Europe is called the Land of the Setting Sun. We are in the lands of the Rising Sun. Today we are invited to appreciate how the Gospel needed to be brought to us also under the guidance of the Holy Spirit by such great missionaries as Francis Xavier and Mateo Ricci. Francis Xavier brought the faith to Goa then to the Moluccas, then to Japan. After returning to Goa on official business as Provincial then returning to Japan he died on the Chinese Island of Shanchuan, short of entering mainland China. Mateo Ricci did, not only by entering the great Chinese Middle Kingdom but by entering its culture. Till today he is honored not only as a great missionary of the Church but as a great sage of China. Of course, it was the Spanish missionaries who just over 500 years ago brought the faith to us in the Philippines.
The ends of the Earth in Africa and the Americas
From Europe, the Gospel was preached to the ends of the earth in Africa not only by Catholic Christians but also by Protestant Christians.
The Memorial that we celebrate today is that of the Christian witnesses in Africa (1885-87), St. Charles Lwanga and Companions, martyrs of Uganda. Their martyrdom is tied to that of another Ugandan martyr, St. Joseph Mukasa Balikudembe. All were in the service of King Mwanga II of Buganda. When King Myanga II insisted that Christians prove their loyalty to him by renouncing their religion, upon their refusal, he killed them all, including and Anglican bishop, James Hannington. Joseph Mukasa Balikudembe, the mayor-domo of King Mwanga II, reproached the king for these executions. For this he was beheaded.
Charles Lwanga was made to take his place as major domo. As head servant, he acted to protect the male pages from the sexual abuse of the pedophile king. After refusing to renounce his faith, Lwanga was executed with twelve others. They were burned at the stake. From the earliest accounts of the Church, “the blood of martyrs” has been “the seed of the Church.”
Of course, the Good News has been preached and the blood of martyrs spilled in North America and in South America as well.
The Ends of the Earth at “the Peripheries”
But today we may consider that under the Holy Spirit the good news preached “to the ends of the earth” is not merely geographical. Pope Francis repeatedly admonishes us to bring the Joy of the Gospel to the peripheries of our society, to the outcaste, the discarded poor, the homeless refugees, the despairing youth, the unarmed victims of violent extremism and violent wars.
Today the witnesses of the Gospel may be those who in conscience struggle for the common good, e.g., those who offer their personal talent, time and treasure to provide a viable political alternative to voters despite insurmountable odds, those who stand for their political convictions even when on a stretcher they can no longer stand and cast their vote trusting in the power of God, those who stand courageously against people who in selfish interest would kill our common home as through open-pit mining in South Cotabato, those who sacrifice time and treasure to bring nourishment to the stunted and wasted malnourished, those who continue in social friendship to work against the obstacles to genuine fraternity in our Mindanao and in our world, no matter the cost. These, St. Ignatius would say, follow not only “a human king” but “Christ our Lord, the Eternal King.” These are those who have considered following Christ not only with “judgement and reason” but by “distinguishing themselves” making it “my earnest desire and deliberate choice, provided it be for thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life” (cf. SpEx, 91-98, esp. 98).
Looking at the Crucified Lord we know such interior movements only make sense in the Spirit convincing us of God’s love for us from the Cross and moving us to love for him in our world – till the end of the earth.