The Easter Sunday bombings of worship sites in Sri Lanka captured the attention of the world. In the days that followed, news outlets shared stories about the increasing death toll of victims numbering about 300 and the arrest of 24 persons who carried out the attacks. In the aftermath of the tragedy, a government official in Sri Lanka stated that the coordinated strikes on churches represented "a new form of terrorism." As the news spread, grief, sadness and anger overshadowed Easter joy.
Those who perished on Easter Sunday were like the early Christians who suffered persecution, torture and death for their faith in Jesus Christ. Tertullian, who was a second century philosopher and theologian, once said: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians." Although never declared a saint, Tertullian was an early Church father who advanced Catholic teachings and helped to develop the language of the Nicene Creed prayed at Sunday Masses and Solemnities.
Each month and each season of the Church year is peppered with feasts and memorials of Christian martyrs. The month of June begins with the feast of Justin Martyr who is among countless men and women who have sacrificed their lives for Christ and His Church. Some have been officially recognized as saints, but many anonymous, known only to God.
In every age, courageous followers of Christ have given witness to the faith to the point of death, earning the crown of martyrdom. The courage of the martyrs flows from the Holy Spirit and nurtured the life of the early Church. Tertullian observed that followers of Christ, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, give their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel. The faith of the martyrs focuses on a world beyond our own. Their example of laying down their lives for the promise of union with God is an agent that sets the world on fire with the love of Christ.
On the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit animated the early Church beset by persecution to extend the invitation to discipleship to the whole world. During the 50 days of Easter, thousands of young people are being "sealed by the Spirit" in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The original fire of the Holy Spirit continues to burn deep within the souls of today's disciples as the Church anticipates the great Feast of Pentecost. As this feast draws closer, let us beg God for a fresh outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to invigorate and guide the Church anew.
Through baptism and reception of the other sacraments, the Holy Spirit resides in the souls of all believers. The living God is present to us through the power and working of the Holy Spirit. The call of every disciple is to be on fire with God's love and proclaim the Gospel message in his or her own unique way. Some of us will do that in extreme ways such as martyrdom, but most of us will do it in ordinary ways. God's gift is the fire of His Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit! We will be your witnesses!