498 Martyrs of Spain
Remembered on November 6
HOMILY OF CARDINAL JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS
St. Peter’s Square
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Your Excellencies, Bishops and Brothers in the Priesthood,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Charged by Pope Benedict XVI to act as his Delegate, I have had the pleasant task of making public the Document through which the Holy Father proclaims blessed 498 Martyrs who poured out their blood for the faith during the religious persecution in Spain in 1934, 1936 and 1937. These Martyrs include Bishops, priests, men and women religious and faithful of both sexes. Three were 16 years old and the oldest was 78.
Until their martyrdom, this large group of Blesseds expressed their love for Jesus Christ, their fidelity to the Catholic Church and their intercession with God for the whole world.
Before dying, they forgave those who persecuted them – and even prayed for them -, as was recorded in the causes for their Beatification introduced in the Archdioceses of Barcelona, Burgos, Madrid, Mérida-Badajoz, Oviedo, Seville and Toledo, and in the Dioceses of Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Gerona, Jaén, Málaga and Santander.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith” (n. 2473). Indeed, following Jesus also means following him in suffering and accepting persecution for love of the Gospel (cf. Mt 24: 8-14; Mk 13: 9-13; Lk 21: 12-19): “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mk 13: 13; cf. Jn 15: 21). Christ anticipated that our lives would be bound to his own destiny.
The logo of this Beatification, which is of historical importance because of the very large number of new Blesseds, has as its central theme a cross that is red, the symbol of love taken to the point of pouring out blood for Christ.
The cross is flanked by a stylized palm branch which intentionally resembles tongues of fire, in which we see symbolized the victory of the Martyrs who with their faith conquer the world (cf. I Jn 1: 4), as well as the flames of the Holy Spirit that came to rest on the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost, and likewise the burning bush that was not consumed by the flames (cf. Ex 3: 1-6), where God appeared to Moses in the Exodus account and is an expression of his very being: the Love that is given and is never extinguished.
These symbols are framed by a circular caption which calls to mind a map of the world: “Beatificacíon Mártires de España [Beatification Martyrs of Spain].
The caption says “Martyrs of Spain” and not “Spanish Martyrs” because Spain was the site of their martyrdom and the homeland of many of them, but there were also some who came from other nations, in fact, from France, Mexico and Cuba.
In any case, martyrs are not the exclusive patrimony of a single diocese or nation. Rather, because of their special participation in the Cross of Christ, Redeemer of the Universe, they belong to the whole world, to the universal Church.
A saying of the Lord from the Gospel according to Matthew was chosen as the motto for this Beatification: “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5: 14). As the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, declares in the opening line: “Christ is the light of humanity” (n. 1); this light is reflected in the face of the Church down the centuries.
Today, it shines in a special way in the Martyrs whose memory we are celebrating.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world (cf. Jn 1: 5-9) that enlightens our minds, so that in recognizing the truth we may live in accordance with our dignity as human beings and children of God.
Thus, we too, transformed into the light of the world, may enlighten all people with the witness of a life lived in total consistency with the faith we profess.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Tm 4: 7). This is what St Paul, already nearing the end of his life, wrote in the text of the Second Reading for this Sunday. With their death, these Martyrs made St Paul’s same convictions come true.
The Martyrs did not win glory for themselves alone. Their blood that soaked into the ground became a source of fertility and abundant fruit.
The Holy Father John Paul II expressed this in one of his Messages, inviting us to cherish the memory of Martyrs: “If we forget the Christians who sacrificed their lives to strengthen the faith, the present time with its projects and ideals would lose a precious element, since the great human and religious values would no longer be comforted by a concrete witness integrated into history” (Message to Cardinal Paul Poupard, 6 November 2003, n. 2; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 3 December, p. 5).
We cannot be content with only celebrating the memory of Martyrs, admiring their example as we trudge wearily on in our own lives. What message do the Martyrs offer to each one of us present here?
We are living in an age when the true identity of Christians is constantly threatened. This means either that they are “martyrs”, that is to say, they adhere consistently to their baptismal faith, or that they are obliged to make compromises.
Since Christian life is a daily personal confession of faith in the Son of God made man, this consistency may in some cases even require Christians to pour out their blood.
But just as one Christian’s life given in defence of the faith has the effect of strengthening the whole Church, the act of proposing the example of the Martyrs means remembering that holiness does not only consist in the reaffirmation of values common to all but in personal adherence to Christ the Saviour of the cosmos and of history. Martyrdom is a paradigm of this truth based on Pentecost.
Personal confession of the faith makes us take another step. It enables us to discover a strong bond between the conscience and martyrdom.
“The profound sense of the witness of the martyrs”, as the then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, lies in the fact that “they witness to man’s capacity for truth as a limit to all power and a guarantee of his divine likeness. It is precisely in this sense that Martyrs are the great witnesses of the conscience, of the human ability itself to perceive, over and above power, also duty, and therefore, to pave the way to true progress, to true ascesis” (J. Ratzinger, Elogio della coscienza, Rome, 16 March 1991, p. 89).
The Martyrs who are inscribed in the Roll of the Blesseds today behaved as good Christians, and when the moment came, they did not hesitate to offer their lives with the cry on their lips: “Long live Jesus Christ!”.
To the men and women of our day they say aloud that we are all called to holiness, all of us without exception, as the Second Vatican Council solemnly declared in dedicating a chapter of its most important Document – chapter V of the Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium – “The call to holiness”.
God created and redeemed us so that we might be saints! We cannot be satisfied with a lukewarm Christian life.
Nor can Christian life be reduced merely to a few individuals and isolated acts of piety: it must embrace every moment of our days on this earth.
Jesus Christ must be present in the faithful fulfilment of our ordinary daily duties, interwoven with details that seem small and unimportant, but these tasks acquire importance and supernatural grandeur when they are done out of love for God.
The Martyrs scaled the peak of heroism in the battle in which they gave their lives for Christ. The heroism to which God calls us is hidden in the thousand skirmishes of our life each day.
We must be convinced that our holiness – this holiness, let us have no doubt about it, to which God calls us – consists in achieving what John Paul II called the “high standard of ordinary Christian living” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 31).
The message of the Martyrs is a message of faith and love. We must examine ourselves courageously and make practical resolutions to discover whether this faith and this love are expressed heroically in our own lives; heroism also of faith and love in our action, as people inserted into history like the leaven that causes dough to rise properly.
Faith, Benedict XVI tells us, helps to purify reason so that it may succeed in perceiving the truth.
Being consistent Christians therefore obliges us not to feel inhibited as we face the duty to contribute to the common good and always to shape society in accordance with justice, defending – in a dialogue modelled by love – our convictions on the dignity of the person, on life from conception to natural death, on the family founded on the one indissoluble matrimonial union of a man and a woman, on the parent’s primary right and duty to decide on the education of their children, and on other matters that arise in the daily life of the society in which we live.
Let us conclude, united with the Holy Father Benedict XVI and the universal Church alive on all five continents, by invoking the intercession of the Martyrs beatified today and by turning with trust to Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs so that, on fire with a burning desire for holiness, we may follow their example.
A list of Martyrs may be found here.