Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions

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Collect: O God, who have made the blood of Martyrs the seed of Christians, mercifully grant that the field which is your Church, watered by the blood shed by Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions, may be fertile and always yield you an abundant harvest. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Today I begin with the Collect for the Ugandan Martyrs , because it tells what they lived for. Charles Lwanga’s life was about Christ, and he lived for Christ and His Church until the time of his death. The forty five martyr’s lived for Christianity. Sometimes, especially with the Martyrs of the Church, it is important to remember the way that they lived their lives, and what they lived for. I have written about Charles Lwanga before. He was a convert to Christianity, and a catechist, and both a mentor and protector of youth. His life was that of an exemplary Christian. Charles lived out his faith to the fullest, and that makes him memorable. His life makes him a Saint. Living a life to the point of death in Jesus Christ makes him a martyr.

Charles was put to death for his faith by a pedophile King who felt threatened by Christians like Charles and his Christian companions. It was for their Christian faith that King Mwanga had Charles and the Martyrs of Uganda put to death by fire. It was by Charles Lwanga’s faith that he protected the youth under his care from the pedophile king.Charles Lwanga lived his religion to the fullest, and that is how he made the fields of Christianity fertile.

When I think of how Charles lived and died, I also have to think a bit about the similar situation today. I have to think today about the Christians of Africa that have been enduring so many trials and persecutions for their faith just as Charles did. I can’t help but think of the recent news of Christians by militant groups such as Boko Haram. The persecutions that brought this Saint to martyrdom are still occurring today, and for many of the same reasons. One can hope that those suffering today gain strength through the inspiration and intercession of Saints Charles Lwanga and his companions, the Christian Martyrs of Uganda.

Jesus and a flip of Caesar’s coin

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“Justin Martyr used all that was around him to build up that vineyard that is Christ’s Church. His arguments were based on discernment, and scholarship, and reason, and prayer. Justin Martyr diligently sought the wisdom of Christ. He listened to and for the word of God.”

Today I start with a quote from myself, it comes from what I wrote about Justin Martyr yesterday. Justin resided between two worlds, the powerful pagans of the Roman Empire and the emerging Christians of the second century. With a flip of a coin he could have joined the ranks of the Romans and lived a reasonable earthly existence. Another flip would have him side with the Christians. They preached salvation, but were despised by the empire. Justin though did not flip a coin in reaching his decision. He sought the truth, he sided with the Christians and tried to persuade the Emperor to end their persecution.

Today in the gospel reading Mk 12:13-17Jesus is presented with the coin. He is asked to discern truth by deceitful men. The question is a tricky one; should those devout Jews be required to pay the temple tax? The catch is that the coin has an image of Caesar on it. Caesar was more than an emperor, he was declared god by the Romans. To pay the temple tax, would be to bow before a false god. Not to pay the tax would be disobedient to the Empire, and that would lead to slavery, imprisonment, torture, or death. The two-sided coin is a double-edged sword, a difficult question indeed!

The Pharisees and Herodians had presented Jesus with a trick question, all while asking for an honest answer. Jesus did give them an honest answer, though not the one those tricksters expected. He understood the dilemma to their puzzle, but tossed another coin into the argument. Rather than flipping a coin to decide who to pledge loyalty to, he brought forward a few other dichotomies. Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is Gods.

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”
They were utterly amazed at him.

That coin contained human and divine, material and spiritual. In his argument he acknowledges the needs of the empire even though those taxes are a burden on society they did build roads and helped to pay for the stonework that was the temple. Societies have needs, and the truth is that governments such as Caesars occupy a legitimate place in society. They might be crooked and corrupt, or they might be honest and productive. The truth though is that they provide a needed service. Caesar in fact played a valuable role, though he gave himself too much value; Caesar would not concede to God. He, like so many leaders propagated the falsehood that they were gods. It was self-promotion to the extreme. Jesus though saw the other side of the coin, he saw His Father. He saw the God of all creation, and knew of man’s indebtedness to that true God, and those indebted to that true God included those Pharisees, Herodians, and even Caesar himself. Jesus knew that the delusions of Caesar could not cancel his debt. Jesus knew the truth despite the fallacies that were presented to him, be they the two sides of a trick question, or a false versus true God.

Within the two sides of that coin are also the two sides of every individual, there it that spiritual, our soul, our need for God, and there are those material needs that every body requires for survival. In Jesus flip of that coin, and throughout his ministry, he realizes that his disciples have two sides. They have those very real earthly requirements of the basic necessities of life; food, water shelter, and along with them the real challenges of life. People also have that spiritual obligation, their obligation to God, and for a life to be truthful both obligations must be met. Jesus cross fulfilled the debt to both, mans relationship to God and his relationship to mankind. His coin had another inscription:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself

There then is  an  inscription for both sides of the coin that everyone can live with.

why should i know about justin martyr?

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Saint Justin Martyr (100 – 165 AD), was an early Christian apologist, and is regarded as an important theologian of the Logos in the 2nd century. That title of Logos refers to Jesus Christ, and translates as “word” “discourse” or “reason”. From Saint Justin we get a reasoned doctrine of Jesus as God of the Trinity. Justin’s thoughts on Christ and the Trinity allowed him to include the Greek philosophers as being “unknowing Christians”, by stating that the seeds of Christianity were sown before Christ’s incarnation. He was a knowledgeable and gifted theologian. Justin along with his students were martyred for refusing to denounce that Christianity in favor of a pagan god. Justin was a defender of Christian morality, and pleaded with Emperor Antonius to end his persecution of Christians.

Today’s gospel Mk 12:1-12 talks about those who tend Gods vineyard, and Justin was one of the good workers of Jesus Christ’s vineyard. His story, relevant today because he lived among the pagans, the same pagans that eventually converted to Christianity. His discipleship is from the beginning of that vineyard Jesus planted, His Church, Justin Martyr is part of the foundation the Church is built upon. His life occurs before Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, and that is something to think about when Christians today are confronted by those that simply refer to Catholicism as an establishment religion that wields power and authority over the helpless people. To the contrary, through Christ and through the diligence of disciples like Justin Martyr, the struggling masses became empowered. I wonder how much is gained by those that preach and practice the neo-paganism of today. One also can look at Justin’s approach to Christianity, and learn how he saw in the Greek Philosopher’s the wisdom of Christ. Justin Martyr used all that was around him to build up that vineyard that is Christ’s Church. His arguments were based on discernment, and scholarship, and reason, and prayer. Justin Martyr diligently sought the wisdom of Christ. He listened to and for the word of God. I wonder if the same can be said of the rebellious new age religions that so often are a counter reaction to Christianity. Is theirs an obedience to The Logos, or simply a reaction to the  circumstances of their lives? That scholarship in seeking truth, even if its dogma is revisited at a later date, in itself speaks of truth and of wisdom. It can be challenged, and stand up to the scrutiny’s of the challenger. Can the same be said of the neo pagans, or the new age soothsayers?

I bring up that conflict of Christianity and Paganism for two reasons. One is my contrast between Saint Patrick’s clover and the pagan interpretation of the Celtic Triquetra from Trinity Sunday’s post. The other is the increasing influence of modern neo-pagans throughout historical Christendom. The third is of course that Justin Martyr was one of the first Christians to confront paganism, and he confronted them when they were in absolute power. An apologist, and Justin was one of the best, is someone who defends something controversial. Catholicism has again returned to being something controversial. That gospel reading of Gods vineyard destroyed by those in charge is relevant to this discussion. In Jesus parable he directs his argument at the priestly class of Jerusalem, but can’t the same argument be directed at modern Christendom? What is the state of that vineyard today? To many it is in decline and for that reason someone can gain much from the likes of Justin who helped it reach its fruition. His mission, and dedication, and battles, and martyrdom, are well worth studying.

Today that vineyard is indeed being studied by those in charge of its stewardship, and the leaders of Christ’s church are in the process of evaluating that which is under their care. In the news there has been much on the current Synod of the Family, there are many discussions inn that synod on how to approach all aspects of the modern families that exist today. Popular referendums on things like gay marriage are certainly not going unnoticed. Also those reforms of the second Vatican council are also under review in other venues; that is being obedient to the responsibility of tending that vineyard. Today, so many have fallen aside and joined the ranks of pagans, or become the followers of no particular denomination. Aimless wanderers. One can hope as those shepherds keep in mind todays gospel passage as they go about their task. To the casual observer it seems that vineyard is slipping back into ruins. The skillful apologetics of this Saint are most needed today.

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

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The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

In light of these two commandments, the real purpose of the burnt offerings and temple sacrifices becomes apparent. They, the burnt offerings and sacrifices of the old temple, simply are reminders to remember these two commandments. I wonder though how many viewed those burnt offerings and sacrifices as an only obligation to God? How many thought offering a few products was all that they needed to appease God, and I wonder how many made these offering to a temple priest with an appearance that they were offered to God with the truth being they were offered for a better standing in the community. I wonder how many offerings to God today are really payments for a better place in this life? Offerings so often can be given as payment or the fulfillment of a contract or obligation. In Jesus view though the only to approach God is with love, both in loving God, and in loving our neighbor as God loves us. Jesus approach is a total involvement with God that is never ending just as God never abandons us or fails to love us. It is a relationship that can not be made finite by the dictate of law, but instead is one that is as infinite as Gods love for us.