Here is the homily given by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, on Oct. 5 in Seoul.
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Readings: Baruch 4:5-12, 27-29; Luke 10:17-24.
1. Dear brothers and sisters, I am particularly glad to be with you here today, a few days before the conclusion of the “Month of Martyrs”, as proclaimed by the Archdiocese of Seoul in commemoration of all the Korean martyrs who laid down their lives for the Gospel. Here, dear brothers and sisters, the very beginnings of the history of the Church in Korea are sanctified by the martyrs, and the blood of so many witnesses of the Faith has become the seed of a multitude who, welcoming with joy the Word of God and believing in the name of the Lord, have glorified the Church in this Country. Wherever their marvelous witness to the Faith is known, one cannot help but be profoundly struck by the extraordinary proof of love given by the 103 canonized Martyrs by Blessed John Paul II and by the crowd of innumerable Confessors of the Faith. The beauty of their profession of love for Christ calls to mind for us a springtime of the Spirit, not unlike that found in Christianity in the first centuries, and this causes us to reflect on the distinctiveness of the origin and the development of the Church in this Land. Here in Korea, we can observe the importance not only of the missionaries coming from afar to bring the Gospel, but above all the lay people whose hearts and minds the Lord opened to the grace of the Word of God, becoming themselves instruments of Divine Providence in the work of evangelization. This multitude of the elect is wonderfully comprised of men and women of every age and social class; they are married persons, widows, elderly, youths, adolescents, catechists, just like people in society: poor men and nobles, priests and missionaries.
2. As long as the Church in Korea exists, therefore, she will always “preserve the memory”, according to the word we just heard from the Prophet Baruch in the First Reading of the Liturgy today. The same Prophet Baruch, then, while remembering the people of Israel exiled in a foreign land, simultaneously revives their hope and encourages them, because in deportation and exile they no longer remain crushed by so much evil. Pope John Paul II, who canonized 103 Martyrs on May 6, 1984, said in his homily that “The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the Martyrs”, and that “even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians”, including those “in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land” (n. 3).
3. We cannot fail to mention certain splendid expressions of our Martyrs, who have the same tenor as those Martyrs of Scilla in North Africa, or Rome, or Carthage: “Now that I have known God, it is not possible for me to betray Him”, Augustine Yu had said publicly. And Peter Cho, likewise, bore witness: “How can I claim to not know the heavenly Father and Lord, Who is so good?” And Agatha Yi reaffirmed: “We cannot betray the Lord of heaven, Whom we have always served!” In these words, we recognize a complement to today’s Gospel: returning to Jesus, Who had sent them, the 72 Disciples joyfully recalled their experiences of preaching and how much had been accomplished in His name; but Jesus exhorted them to be even happier because their “names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, wishes to clearly reaffirm that the Church jealously and with great care conserves the memory of her children who are “raised up to perfection by the manifold grace of God … she proposes them to the faithful as examples drawing all to the Father though Christ, and through their merits she pleads for God’s favors” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 104).
4. The invitation today that our Martyrs and the innumerable Confessors of the Faith address to us is an invitation to sanctity and generous fidelity to Christ, the Lord Whom they placed at the center of their lives. In a Wednesday Catechesis (April 13, 2011), Pope Benedict XVI proposed this question: “What does it mean to be holy? Who is called to be holy?”, to which he added, “We are often led to think that holiness is a goal reserved for a few elect.” He then explained that the point of departure for holiness in found in placing Christ at the center of the plan of our lives – He Who makes God visible and has shown us the face of the Father – and that “holiness, the fullness of the Christian life, does not consist in carrying out extraordinary enterprises, but being united with Christ, in living His mysteries, in making our own His example, His thoughts, His behavior.” The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church speaks clearly of the universal call to holiness, from which no one is excluded: the Church’s Pastors, priests, deacons, men and women religious, spouses and parents, widows, unmarried people and youths, as well as people of every class and condition, whether sick, poor, afflicted with various trials, and imprisoned, to name a few (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 41). There is no one, no matter how spiritually, morally, or physically poor, that can be turned away or thought to be excluded from this call to holiness.
5. There is a further question to clarify. Pope Benedict asked, “… how can we take the path to holiness in order to respond to this call? Can I do this on my own initiative?” He then explained: “A holy life is not primarily the result of our own efforts, of our actions … it is the work of God … has its deepest root in the grace of baptism … Yet, God always respects our freedom and asks that we accept this gift” and we apply this to you (cf. Wednesday Catechesis, April 13, 2011). Holiness, therefore, never goes on vacation, and it is neither an accessory to faith not is it imposed. In a tweet this last summer, Pope Francis wrote that there are three fundamental tools for advancing in holiness: “Prayer, humility, and charity towards all”. Later, at the Angelus on August 25th of this year, he explained that at the door of holiness, no one is kept outside, since Christ Himself is the door: “Some of you, perhaps, might say to me: ‘But, Father, I am certainly excluded because I am a great sinner: I have done terrible things, I have done lots of them in my life’. No,” said the Pope, “you are not excluded! Precisely for this reason you are the favorite, because Jesus prefers sinners, always, in order to forgive them, to love them. Jesus is waiting for you to embrace you, to pardon you. Do not be afraid: he is waiting for you. Take heart, have the courage to enter through his door.”
6. The experience of those who have preceded us on the path of holiness was no different. It is enough to read their biographies and we will see that a certain St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, decided to change his life in order to be with the Lord while he was confined and wounded, and that, through His door, that is, through Christ, he was admitted into His friendship and to following Him. Was not the experience of St. Francis of Assisi perhaps the same, passing from a pleasure-seeking life to an imitation of Christ? And is not the life lived by our Korean Martyrs equal to these? What brought Saint Andrew Kim and all of the others to choose Christ in spite of the persuasions of the judges and authorities? Had they not placed Christ at the very center of their lives? Did they not make prayer the source of their courage? Did they not make humility the distinctive sign of their own steadfastness? And in pardoning, did they not prefer charity over whatever offense was given?
7. Even today, the Korean people and the Church in Korea need the example of their own Martyrs to find vigor and strength. The Korean people are much esteemed in the world for their dignity and strong character, as well-evidenced in so many human, social, and economic achievements. In the midst of this noble Korean people, the Catholic Church is called to become leaven and to ferment: to be the instrument of communion and of goodness, the builder of peace in Christ. This is your mission.
8. And this is also my wish and the message I leave you, that you will be imitators with great fortitude of our Saints, who are that profound root and upon whom we call for protection and strength. May Mary, Queen of Peace and of the Martyrs, show you her kindness and lead you always to Christ. Amen.