Yesterday afternoon, the Holy Father presided over the Mass for the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Sant'Egidio Community, a lay apostolate founded in Rome. In his homily to the group, Benedict XVI encouraged them to have the courage and perseverance of martyrs while proclaiming the Gospel.
The Pope began his address by asking why martyrs give their lives for Christ, "In this place we ask ourselves why did these our martyr brothers and sisters not seek at all costs to save the irreplaceable benefit of life? Why did they continue to serve the Church despite threats and intimidation?"
He continued, pointing out that we have heard the testimony of martyrs from the beginning of the Church who “have offered their lives to Christ in martyrdom" and "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
This quote from the Book of Revelation explains their reason for martyrdom. The Holy Father describes that the language used “contains a precise reference to the white flame of love which made Christ spill His blood for us. By virtue of that blood we have been purified. Sustained by that flame the martyrs also spilt their blood and were purified in love.”
Benedict XVI then called to mind a phrase Jesus used while on earth: "No-one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends," and he added: “All witnesses of the faith experience this 'greater love'", conforming themselves to Christ and "accepting the extreme sacrifice without placing limits on the gift of love and the service of faith.”
Though “violence, totalitarianism, persecution and mindless brutality appear to be stronger and to silence the voice of witnesses of faith,” through Christ, “we understand the meaning of martyrdom. ... The blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians. In the defeat and humiliation of those who suffer because of the Gospel is a power which the world does not know. ... It is the power of love, unarmed and victorious.”
The Holy Father reminded the community that martyrdom is not a thing of the past: "This 21st century also began under the sign of martyrdom. When Christians truly are leaven, light and salt of the earth they too become, as Jesus did, objects of persecution" and "signs of contradiction. Fraternal coexistence, love, faith, and choices in favor of the smallest and the weakest ... sometimes provoke violent aversion. How useful it is, then, to look to the shining witness of those who have gone before under the sign of heroic faithfulness, even unto martyrdom."
At the end of his homily, Benedict XVI invited the members of the Sant'Egidio Community to imitate "the courage and perseverance" of martyrs "in serving the Gospel, especially among the poor. Be architects of peace and reconciliation between enemies and those who fight one another.”
The Pope encouraged the community "not to fear the difficulties and suffering this missionary activity brings, they are part of the 'logic' of courageous witness of Christian love."