A while back we took another look at U2′s halftime show at the 2002 Super Bowl (I never realized it before, but Bono speaks a phrase from psalm 51 “Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise” before he starts he starts wailing).
Only Deacon Greg Kandra can take that clip and use it to teach us – brilliantly and movingly – about St. Augustine Zhao Rong & Companions, The Chinese Martyrs:
As the song began, behind the stage a massive banner started to rise, coming up from the floor of the stage, being lifted toward the ceiling, hundreds of feet above. It was stunning. Because on the banner were the names of all those who had died on 9/11…just four months before…the banner kept growing, and the names kept going higher, and the list kept getting longer. It seemed infinite, like it would never end.
The loss was so enormous. To see it so clearly was devastating.
Sometimes it’s not until you see something in black and white like that, that you realize the totality of what has happened. Numbers are an abstraction. But names and details tell the story.
And it was that way for me, too, with the Chinese Martyrs. I didn’t really know much about them until I was asked to preach this evening. But again, as I read their stories, I found myself overwhelmed. The loss was so great. But so was their courage.
…So many were children. Three, four years old. One was ten months old. Some were teenagers, like 14-year-old Wang Anna…who refused to renounce her faith. Moments before her death, she cried out: “The door of heaven is open to all,” then whispered, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” Seconds later, she was beheaded.
So many of them were also lay people. Mothers and fathers, even entire families. They were people like 18-year-old Chi Zhuzi, who became a Catholic at 17, and was disowned by his family. He was eventually captured and ordered to publicly worship idols. When he refused, they cut off his right arm. He still refused, declaring: “Every piece of my flesh, every drop of my blood will tell you that I am Christian.” He died by mutilation.
The Chinese Martyrs suffered greatly, in ways most of us can’t fathom. But we can never forget that we are people of Resurrection. Death doesn’t have the last word. And we carry in our hearts the beautiful words from the letter of St. John that we heard tonight, words that remind us they were not victims…but victors: “The victory that conquers the world is our faith,” he writes, “…and who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’
That belief transcends all fear, soothes all sorrow, and gives hope to despair.
An excerpt is not good enough. You need to go read the whole thing. One of Greg’s best!