This Scripturefest gathering occurs at a time when we are intensifying our preparations for the second year of our Nothing More Beautiful initiative. Let us recall the purpose of NMB – evangelization. Evangelization has as its goal conversion – first conversion for those who have not yet heard the Gospel, and ongoing conversion for those who have long heard it and sought to live in accordance with it. Conversion is lifelong, and as we rediscover again the beauty of the Gospel we can expect to be confronted by its truth and its consequent challenge to all that is false or complacent in our lives. When we read and hear the Word, its ability to get to the truth of things, to penetrate our hearts and call us deeper becomes quickly clear. This is what is happening in the Scripture readings for this Mass. The readings and the liturgical
feast in which they are proclaimed cut to the heart of our lives of discipleship with a rather riveting question: are you ready to die
for the Gospel?
Are you ready to die for the Gospel? Nothing is more important to us than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more beautiful. Therefore we desire with all of our hearts to make known to the world Him whom the prophets had long foretold would save the world, Him who has fulfilled that prophecy by his dying and rising and his abiding presence in the Church and world through His Holy Spirit. Making Christ known is our mission and the very reason for our existence. But making him known involves death. Are you ready to die for the Gospel?
We honour today the Canadian martyrs, by whose death the Gospel first began to take root and spread here in North America. They are among the countless hosts of martyrs described in the reading from Revelation, the martyrs who gave their life that Christ might be known, and who now live in the presence of the Lamb of God, whose death on earth for the life of the world was the foundation and pattern of their own. They accepted, first, the possibility, then the reality of death, because they lived from that teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel that
discipleship means taking up the cross in imitation of their Lord, and that it is only by losing life for his sake that we will actually find life.
These words of Jesus and the example of those who met death by making him known lead inescapably to the question that each of us must answer: are you ready to die for the Gospel? When the cross was planted on Canadian soil by Sts. Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions, it cost them their lives. Today there needs to be a new implantation of the Cross of Christ in our country, which in so many ways has grown allergic to the Gospel. For us, too, it will cost us our lives, not likely in the same way as being put to death, but the cost will nonetheless be real. Where we need to plant the cross is very deep in the soil of our hearts. This means learning to view all of our reality through the prism of the Cross; it means making all of life’s decisions in the light of the Cross. This leads to death; a death to self. Embracing the Cross, or better, allowing it to embrace us, means dying to all that is of self and not of God, to all that is selfish and self-absorbed so as to be alive for God and others. Our country is witnessing the opposite of this way of life. What is becoming more and more prevalent is the sacrifice of the common good for the sake of individual wants and desires. This is the case with abortion, some would want it to be so regarding euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, it happened with the redefinition of marriage and it occurs whenever people are so caught up in their own materialist and consumerist pursuits that they are not aware of the needs of the poor, here and elsewhere, and hence neglect to make the sacrifices that can restore the balance and improve the lives of their brothers and sisters.
Are you ready to die for the Gospel? St. Paul in the second reading reminds us of a wondrous truth: through our death, Jesus becomes visible. We want him to be visible, seen; we want him to be known, we want him to be loved, and we want him to be followed so that the world might
know the life and joy he intends for every person. Our desire springs from the treasure within us. That treasure is the gift of faith; the gift of an unshakeable conviction, rooted in our personal encounter with Christ, of the love and mercy of God. We want that conviction to be known and shared by others, and so we embrace death, a death to self, as did the martyrs we honour today, for the sake of our Lord and his Gospel. Weak clay vessels that we are, we cannot do so without the help of God. Let us pray, then, that our celebration of the Eucharist will
renew and deepen our encounter with Christ, implant more deeply the Cross and its beauty within our hearts, and enable us to say “yes” to the question we cannot avoid: are you ready to die for the Gospel?
Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
September 26th, 2009