April 25 is the Feast of St. Mark. He is known as St. Mark the Evangelist, and St. Mark the Lionhearted. Isn’t ‘Lionhearted’ a wonderful name to have? It paints pictures of brave deeds and acts of courage, of nobility and fortitude. In the case of St. Mark the name is well earned. He preached and taught the gospel, winning many converts to Christ. He founded a Christian community in Alexandria, which grew into a large and thriving church, which roused the displeasure of non-believers who determined to stop him. He was captured, bound, dragged through the streets, imprisoned, and again dragged through the streets until he died. Accounts say the ground was stained with his blood and strewn with pieces of his flesh, but he continued to praise and thank God. Lionhearted indeed.
The Church continued to flourish in Alexandria and other cities St. Mark had visited. No doubt his teaching and exhortation were significant factors (along with the work of many other disciples busy spreading the Good News) but there was probably something else at work as well.
In June of 2014, Pope Francis said this: “The Church grows thanks to the blood of martyrs. This is the beauty of martyrdom. It begins with witness, day after day, and it can end like Jesus the first martyr, the first witness, the faithful witness, with blood.”
There are times when, as Pope Francis said, “historical situations require a strong witness.” He has spoken several times of the seeds planted by those who work for the gospel and die for the faith. In the early Church, when new Christians were being persecuted in horribly creative ways, the fact that believers were willing to die for Christ was a profound, undeniable testament to the truth of the good news.
Are we living in a time when “historical situations require a strong witness”? It would seem so. There are appalling stories coming from faraway places of beheadings, burnings, drownings, and mass shootings of Christians of many different confessions. Our brothers and sisters are paying with their lives for professing Jesus Christ as the Son of God. They are Lionhearted.
“The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard by everyone who can still distinguish between good and evil.” This from Pope Francis a few days ago after the news broke that yet another group of Christians was killed. The part of that sentence that caught my attention was the Holy Father’s use of ‘still’. These martyrdoms cry out to be heard by those who can still distinguish between good and evil, which suggests that there are those who are no longer able to do so. Good and evil are one and the same to them, which emphasizes the great need in the world for more – many more – seeds to be planted. It may take many, many more martyrs to shed their blood, and it will also take us offering our own sacrifices, professing our faith in our own daily lives (which can be a martyrdom in some circumstances) but we can trust that Christ spoke the truth when He said there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that the Kingdom of God will triumph.
St. Mark the Lionhearted, pray for us.