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.
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.
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.
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.