HOMILY for the 1st Tue per annum (I)
Dominican Martyrs of China
Today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews uses a rare term to describe Jesus Christ. He is the archegos, the fore-leader, which is translated as ‘pioneer’, or by others as ‘author’. The sense is that Jesus has gone before us into glory, and because of him, it is possible for us to follow the path he trod. So, Christ as fore-leader leads the way to salvation, but also, as St John would put it, Christ becomes the Way.
The Dominican mystic and saint Catherine of Siena expressed this in a striking image. In one of her visions God the Father says: “I have made a Bridge of my Word, of my only-begotten Son, and this is the truth. I wish that you, my children, should know that the road was broken by the sin and disobedience of Adam, in such a way, that no one could arrive at Eternal Life… And so, wishing to remedy your great evils, I have given you the Bridge of my Son, in order that, passing across the flood [of sin and evil], you may not be drowned”. Hence, we are invited to cross the Bridge that is Christ, to walk along his Way to salvation, to follow him.
And what is Christ’s way? How does he win this glory? The writer of Hebrews says that God makes Christ “perfect through suffering”; Christ wins salvation for us and is glorified through suffering. How might we understand this? The Greek word translated as ‘to make perfect’ [teleioo] is also used elsewhere in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to priestly consecration. So, what Hebrews may be saying (and this becomes a major theme later on in this letter) is that Christ was made a priest through suffering, through compassion. Indeed, Christ becomes most completely, most perfectly our priest and enters into glory through Love, by dying for us on the Cross. Hence, through sharing in our humanity and suffering with us and for us on the Cross, through this priestly act of sacrifice, Christ was glorified by God. He is raised from death, and ascends into glory, becoming the trail-blazer, the pioneer, the fore-leader of our salvation.
If we consider that a Latin word for a priest is pontifex, which means ‘bridge-builder’, then we can say that Christ is both our Bridge and the Bridge-builder. He leads the way to salvation, and through his self-sacrificial love on Calvary, he bridges the gap between sinful Mankind and God so that we can also share in his glory.
So, we are invited to follow in his footsteps, crossing the Bridge by walking in his Way of love and sacrifice. Those who suffer martyrdom, such as today’s saints, the Dominican martyrs of China, most strikingly do this. Their death bears witness to their faith that Christ is the fore-leader, so that where he has gone, they followed, walking along his pioneering way. Thus, they endured torture and death for the sake of their faith, choosing to be made perfect through suffering, through a sacrificial love like Christ’s, so that they could share in Christ’s glory. This likeness between the martyrs and Christ is, as the letter to the Hebrews says, “fitting” because “in bringing many sons to glory, [God made] the pioneer of their salvation [i.e., Christ] perfect through suffering” (Heb 2:10).
May the martyrs pray for us that we may share their faith and courage.