Homily of Fr. Herbert Nicholls
Listen! For the wisdom of God says, I will send prophets and apostles, some of whom they will persecute and kill…from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, I tell you it will be required of this generation.
Zechariah, priest, prophet, and father of St. John the Baptist was stoned to death before the altar of holocausts in the Temple because he accused the people and leaders of Israel of being unfaithful to God’s Law.
Jesus severely rebukes the students and interpreters of the Law who should have been the very ones to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, however, the Gospels teach us the opposite. These scribes and Pharisees would not allow the people to follow Jesus. They did everything to block His way. Is this the role of those precisely influenced by Satan? Recall when Peter attempted to block the way of Jesus. How did Jesus rebuke him? Get behind me, Satan.
One of the effects of our Redemption by Christ is His victory over Satan. It was prophesied that the Messiah would crush the head of the serpent. Being one with Christ we share in His victory and in His power.
It is true, despite the disbelief of many today, that the devil is real and powerful and never ceases to search for an opportunity to devour one of Christ’s disciples; but equally important to remember that he can only operate within the limits which God has imposed upon him.
God is stronger than the devil. And we have no cause to be afraid of him. Until this conviction is clearly and firmly rooted within us we may feel threatened; but once we possess this conviction we are quite safe—in the hands of God.
This does not assure us, however, of a life free of suffering, persecution or even martyrdom which would be impossible to bear without this conviction.
Let us look briefly at the example of the 350 Martyrs, Disciples of St. Maron. These disciples were 6th Century monks living in several monasteries throughout Northern Syria adjacent to Northern Lebanon. They held strong ties to the Catholic faith, particularly to the teaching of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. This Council in 451 decreed that Our Lord Jesus Christ was one person, but having two distinct natures, one divine, the other human. Despite the Dogma of the Council there persisted the group called Monophysites—meaning one nature, namely the divine nature. Without a human nature, the Son of God was not truly man, not born of a human mother, could not die; so the sacrifice of Calvary was a sham.
Patriarch Severus embraced this monophysite heresy and persecuted the monks, ordering 350 of them to be executed in the year 517AD.
When things settled down, several of the survivors presented to Pope Hermisdas an affidavit testifying how the monks had been martyred under the authority of Patriarch Severus. The Pope expressed his sympathy and urged them to remain steadfast against persecution.
In 1734, Pope Clement XII bestowed an indulgence upon all the Churches honoring the 350 Maronite monks. Pope Benedict XIV in 1740 declared the indulgence applicable to all Maronite Churches throughout the world.
Unity is the work of the Holy Spirit. Division is the labor of the evil one. Some people follow Jesus, enthusiastic about His message and miracles; while others simply will not accept Him and do everything in their power to dissuade others from following Him. They try in every way to discredit Him in the eyes of the people.