Fr. Bryan Howard
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 30 September 2018
Today is the memorial of Saints Victor and Urban. Victor and Urban were Roman legionaries. A Roman Legion was a Roman army consisting of 6,600 soldiers. This particular legion was recruited from Egypt, every member was Christian, ad every member is today considered a saint, even though we only know the names of 17 of them. They are called the Theban Legion. Around the year 287 AD, Emperor Maximian lead an army, including the Theban Legion, to suppress a rebellion in modern day France. Part of the preparation for battle was to offer sacrifices to the gods asking for victory, but the Theban Legion refused. The Emperor ordered all of them to be executed. These 6,600 legionaries, including Saints Victor and Urban, gave an example of faith, hope, and love that is still speaking to us today.
Giving an example is important because it is the highest form of teaching. You can try to teach someone the highest and most revered principles and values but if you don’t strive to live them, then your words don’t mean anything, because your very live is speaking a different message. Of course, we all consider martyrdom to be the highest example you can give, because it means that you consider this thing to be more valuable than even your own life. For a Catholic, a martyr is someone who shows that they are ready to accept death out of love for God and who is killed out of hatred for the faith. This is what the members of the Theban Legion did.
We also talk about White Martyrdom. If dying for the faith is the definition of red martyrdom, then white martyrdom means to live the faith in a heroic way in love of God and neighbor. Think of saints like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Padre Pio, and St. Louis IX, King of France. They didn’t die for the faith, but they certainly lived it heroically.
If giving an example is so important, then we should pay close attention to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I way to you, will surely not lose his reward. Whoever causes one of these little one who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to go into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”
I’ve quotes this section at length to emphasize the words of Jesus. When we use the words scandal we’re usually talking about some celebrity who did something outrageous and ended up on the cover of some tabloid. When the Church talks about scandal, we mean doing something that gives a negative example, and therefore leading someone else into sin. Jesus doesn’t mean that you should literally cut off your hands and feet and pluck out your eyes. In fact, the Church considers self-mutilation to be a serious sin. No, Jesus means that you should cut out of your life anything that leads you away from love. Love of God and neighbor is the highest law, therefore, sin is anything that’s against love. The highest act of love is to give your life, as Jesus Himself said, “Greater love than this has no man, to lay down your life for your friend.” That’s just what Jesus Himself did on the Cross. He didn’t have to die; He’s God. He chose to allow Himself to be killed to give us an example, a witness of the love of God, and to show us that God loves us so much that He came down to be with us and even to give His life for us.
Sts. Victor and Urban and their companions gave an example of love in willingly giving their lives for God. Soldiers, first responders, and many other people give us an example of love by putting themselves in harm’s way for other people. They don’t do it because they want to die, but because they love. You may never get the opportunity to lay down your life for love of God or neighbor, but you have an opportunity every day every day to show God’s love in the way you treat the people around you.
When you come up to receive the Eucharist remember that the Eucharist is the memorial of the Cross. In it are all of the graces that Christ won for us on the Cross, and those are the graces that God greatly desires to pour out into your soul. Ask God for the strength to give a good and holy example, not for your own glory or so your name is remembered hundreds of years from now, but for the greater glory of God and out of love for Him and for all of His children, both those here on earth and those already in heaven.
St. Victor, pray for us.
St. Urban, pray for us.
All you holy men and women, pray for us.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.