Red Martyrs & White Martyrs

Our Lady of Consolation Parish here in Carey, OH has a lot in common with the Church of the Assumption in a small town, about an hour from Medugorije, called Široki Brijeg  in the country formerly known as Yugoslavia.  They also have a huge celebration on August 15th, pilgrims come from all over and flood the little village for the Feast of the Assumption just like Carey.  The profiles of the church looks very similar, especially the giant rose, stained glass windows. 

Franciscan Monastery in Bosnia/Herzegovina
Our Lady of Consolation Shrine & Basilica Carey, OH

They were founded in 1846 and here in Ohio was in 1875.  They are run by the Franciscans and used to have a seminary there, and we too had seminary here and are run by Franciscans.  On all the buildings around the Franciscan monastery is found the Franciscan coat of arms, and all the buildings here have the same crest and words scrolled on the bottom “Deus Meus et Omnia” My God and My all. 

Franciscan Coat of Arms

Only here is where they differ. A horrible thing happened 75 years ago on Feb 7th, 1945.  Communist soldiers arrived to the church and told 30 gathered friars “God is dead, there is no God, there is no Pope, there is no church, there is no NEED of you, you must go out in the world and work.”  The friars were actually doing good work in the nearby school, and teaching in the seminary, and many were noted scholars and famous authors.  The communists told the friars to remove their habits. They refused.  And so the soldiers desecrated a crucifix and threw it on the floor and said, “You can now choose, life or death.”  Each of the friars came forward and held the crucifix tenderly in their hands and said “My God and My All” and each received a bullet of martyrdom.  Imagine one by one professing your faith and watching your loved one die in front of you.  One by one by one until the last one stands to witness all your brothers die. The bodies of the friars were taken to a cave and burned to cover up the murders.  Today those remains are found in the Franciscan Monastery, and pilgrims by the 1,000’s honor those friars who remained faithful to their calling. In the Gospel of St Matthew (10:28) we hear the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.”  These 30 martyrs in Bosnia/Herzegovina were NOT concerned with preserving their own bodies, but instead praying for their sins.  The friars are remembered for praying a “Litany to our Lady” for the sins of their murderers and the sins of each other.  I doubt many of us will proclaim our faith in such a dramatic fashion in a gory red martyrdom.  However white martyrdom is much more likely.  A white martyrdom is a bloodless martyrdom when you faithfully remain stout-hearted to your calling.  This means taking Jesus to work with you.  Remembering Jesus in every moment of the day.  This means speaking about Jesus at the water cooler.  This means inviting people into this most cherished part of your lives, your faith life. 

Franciscan Monastery in Bosnia/Herzegovina

If I come over to your house and have a splendid visit, heart-warming, hospitable, and utterly fulfilling.  Then I walk off and never mention your name again.  What kind of friend am I? I don’t tell my family about how wonderful your words of kindness were, how great your hors-deurves tasted, how thoughtful the conversation … nothing.  And wouldn’t I be selfish to not mention the goodness of your hospitality with others?  And do we ever do that to Jesus?  He gives us his very life blood and we depart with a grateful heart for sure, but do we even talk about Jesus to our best friend?  How do you think Jesus feels when he’s NOT introduced to your friends?  He’s never mentioned at your workplace?  His name is not even spoken in your house?  I don’t want to be that guy who listens to Jesus when He says, “you couldn’t even mention my name to your friends?”  Instead, I want to be a good disciple and solid witness.  So I can rejoice in these words of Jesus “Whoever declares himself for me in the presence of others, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.”  (Mt 10:32)

It is not easy to witness to Jesus in the every day.  No one wants to be labeled that “Jesus guy” or “Jesus girl”.  If we are truly a disciple, that means we look for ways to insert the story of Jesus into the story of our lives.  To have opportunities to mention the name of Jesus to a friend or better yet to a complete stranger.  Wow, dangerous right? This is what witnessing looks like.  This is what is means to be faithful to our calling.  Are we willing to pray publicly in a restaurant and acknowledge Jesus in front of strangers?  Do we laugh along with an off-color joke? Just go along with mob mentality instead of bringing Jesus into the conversation.  I remember one friar witnessing to Jesus by saying, “I would have never survived college without Jesus.”  Wow what a powerful witness, short, succinct and provocative!  In that way this friar was being faithful to his calling.

Back to Bosnia/Herzegovina, one of those communist soldiers was so inspired by these friars praying for their murderers, asking God to forgive their executioners and to muster the courage to stand up for Jesus … that same communist observer converted.  Not only him but later his son who became a priest and his daughter who became a religious.  Now that is what I call a convicted witness of a disciple. They were faithful to their calling.   

My God and My All

When Your Best Falls Short

What do you do when your best isn’t good enough?

Consider Edward W Spencer who would be called a hero by any standard, but he could not accept that accolade.  Spencer attended the Theology program at Northwestern University and was planning to graduate with the class of 1862 until he stumbled up the greatest maritime disaster in Great Lakes history. 

It was a stormy night on September 8, 1860 when Edward Spencer was walking along the shores of Lake Michigan with his friends at two in the morning when he heard cries of help echoing off the dark waters.  The Lady Elgin, a luxurious side-wheeled steam powered cruise ship of its day, was hit broadside by the unlit schooner Augusta.  30 minutes later, 400 passengers were left floating in the water, struggling to grab anything that would stay afloat despite the rough waters.  One band member was kept alive by his floating bass drum.  People were crying for help because the high breakers crashing onto the shoreline allowed for a strong undertow pulling people back out into Lake Michigan.  No one was able to swim faster than the currents would pull them.  Edward Spencer was a competitive swimmer who knew well Lake Michigan and these dangerous currents, and also the threat of hypothermia when the cold waters claimed lives.  Displaying undaunted courage his friends held a rope tied to the waist of Spencer while he plunged into the turbulent waters to grab survivors.  It was exhausting work. Overeager friends would pull him at the wrong time and drag him across rocks in their zeal and excitement.  For six hours Spencer pulled out survivors, till he tallied 18 people rescued, then collapsed from exhaustion.  Next thing he knew he awoke in a hospital bed in Evanston to view the face of his brother William.  Edward Spencer asked his older brother, “Did I do my full duty, did I do my best?”

Northwestern University Historical Marker

Spencer was never the same after that night.  He remained wheelchair bound, and his brother William tells the haunting story that psychologically his brother was never the same.  Edward Spencer left Northwestern University, had to drop out of school, and began a new life on the west coast.  Any casual observer who witnesses a hero collapse from physical exhaustion, while saving the lives of 18 survivors would agree, Spencer did his best!  But Edward Spencer did not believe this since he never stopped asking the question, “did I do my very best?”  His attention was on the 300 floating victims who did not survive the maritime disaster, and he was unable to rescue.  Would you say your life is worthwhile if you save one person, let alone 18?  Edward Spencer was in the right location and the right time of day, combined with his aquatic experience and his friends to back him up.  That is what I call a the providential hand of God helping people in God’s perfect timing.

To use your gifts to save lives is a rare thing.  Many people live their lives never witnessing one life saved due to them, let alone 18 lives saved.  Working as an EMT in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State gave me the opportunity to save lives directly using God’s gifts to rescue them.  This is one of the greatest joys to experience in one’s vocation.  When one person suffers through a tragic accident and my gifts were able to comfort and assist them.  What a thrill!  I wonder why Edward Spencer could not experience a sense of satisfaction from his heroic act. Instead the cries of those he could not save haunted his years.  Maybe this is a human blindside to always focus on what we can’t do rather than what we can.  Edward Spencer made a huge impact on 18 individuals that would forever be in his debt, and that was not enough?  We can only do what we are charged to do within our reach. When we overreach we risk taking on too much.  And we all know there is only one Savior who can take it all upon Himself, the rest of us are mere servants of Him.  All our gifts are in service to our Head, Jesus Christ our Lord and King.        

Extraordinary COVID Times Demand Extraordinary Measures

I did not watch the Pope live in St. Peter’s square on the 27th of March as we friars were at prayer in the basilica, but after several people mentioned it and how powerful the images were, I thought I would take a look. Watched it on YouTube. Wow! Powerful indeed!

Pope Francis addresses and empty Vatican speaking in Italian

Here are some thoughts regarding the possible symbolism behind these images; I’m not saying this is what they are, just this is what popped into my mind. As you probably noticed I try and find the simple and useful meaning in all.

As you may recall the columns of St. Peter’s square, according to the designs of Bernini, were intended to evoke the image of the open arms of God welcoming and embracing all humanity.

Rain drenches St Peter’s Square

Starting from that perspective we can see the chair illuminated and empty as the light of the Holy Spirit that dwells within everyone’s heart and soul.

The vast emptiness is the space that we usually try and fill up with the joys of this world; many of them awesome things as is God’s plan to give us the wonders of His creation to enhance our happiness here on earth. But we lost sight of our priorities and where God belongs in this life. So like a good parent, He took away our privileges and put us on a “timeout” from all those distractions to think about what we have done. 

He’s giving us time to realign our priorities and put God first and all else second and on down the line. And He gave us some images to help guide us on what to reconsider during this time of solitude such as the (rain) water to have us read prayerfully the reason and beliefs we have about our baptism.

We saw fire to remind us to reacquaint ourselves with our belief behind having received the Holy Spirit more completely in confirmation. And the seven steps the pope ascended to get to the chair are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which rest deep in each person here on earth.

From there we heard “The Word” and a homily.  Then the Pope went to the icon of Mary, who gave her fiat and initiated God’s salvific plan allowing “The Word to be made flesh”, and he prayed in front of the image of Mary with the baby Jesus.  

Then the Pope went to the Crucified Christ and prayed. After, he walked toward but did not enter the Father’s house (St. Peter’s) as the altar was set up in the middle just outside the basilica but not in the Darkness of the world. A middle place similar to purgatory where we spent time with the pope in front of the flesh and blood soul and divinity of the resurrected Christ.

Finally, we received the blessing of Christ and he returned from that middle place back into His father’s house where a place has been prepared for all humanity. We all want to get to the Father’s house and the only way to the Father is through the Son. And before this Mary is there to lead us to the Son who came to us first as The Word.

Then, and this is extremely important, we see once again the empty space showing that we are given another opportunity and this time we must remember our place, remember God’s place and fill this empty space with God’s Love. We must go and share the Joy of the resurrected Christ and bring His Love to all humanity, all creatures and all creation  We use the renewed and refreshed lesson just received and the realignment of our ways to go back out in the world when God wills this is over and not “fall back” into the same old routine but with the zeal of modern day disciples we go out to the ends of the world and proclaim through the lives we live that Jesus Christ Is Lord!! 

 The 3 lessons I share in this reflection are not just to say “oh wow that’s cool” I believe they are absolutely necessary to benefit from the next of the three-part process we may be undergoing. This “timeout” is for us to reconnect to The Way, The Truth and the Life, make a serious attempt because the level of realignment we make, the ground we clear spiritually is where the benefits will go in the next step. With little or no space, we will receive little or no benefits.

Reacquaint yourself with the reasons why and benefits of Baptism and Confirmation (Water and Fire). Get to know the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

May the Peace of the Lord be upon you

The Light of the Holy Spirit shine through you

And the Love of Father surround you,

Love,

 Br. Don Bassana, OFM Conv

Presently serving in Rome and Assisi Italy