Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
March 25, 2016
“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Hebrews 5:8-9
On the First Friday of March, in Lent of this year, at 8:30 in the morning, ISIS terrorists descended on a home for the disabled and elderly run by the Missionaries of Charity in South Yemen. By 10:15 sixteen people, including four nuns, five young Ethiopian Christian men, and four ladies who worked at the home, lay slaughtered, tied up, shot in the head, with skulls crushed. The priest chaplain, after having frantically consumed the Blessed Sacrament, was taken hostage, presumably to be held for ransom or a prisoner exchange.
Immediately upon learning of this outrage, Pope Francis sent his personal message through the Yemen foreign office. “I thank them—little M.C. martyrs.” He said he would offer his First Friday devotions for them.
A superior of the Missionaries of Charity reflected on the profound nature of this sacrifice. She wrote, “[T]hey were so faithful—ISIS knew exactly when they [left the convent to go to the home] and when to break in. And because of their faithfulness they were in the right place at the right time and were ready when the Bridegroom came.” Because of their fidelity—to their duties, their prayer, their routine, their care for the elderly—the attackers knew when to strike. Through their obedience, they suffered. And today is Good Friday, when we reflect on the obedient suffering of our Lord.
The second reading spoke these words to us: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). There is no redemption without suffering, and there is no redemptive suffering without obedience. And this obedient suffering is lived out in faithfulness. If we do not understand this, we do not understand Christianity. If we teach something different, then what we preach is a parody or worse, a farce.
When at that climactic moment Jesus proclaims, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He bows His head and hands over His spirit. What is “finished”? It is His obedience. He has completed the task. He has offered to the Father the sacrifice of Himself for the redemption of sinners. And this supreme act of selflessness is accomplished because of obedience. “I say only what the Father taught me” (John 8:28), Jesus said of His mission from the Father. “I do just as the Father has commanded me” (John 14:31).
Oh, the supreme obedience of Christ crucified! What a humiliating judgment upon my selfishness it is! God did not spare even His Son “… but handed him over for us all” (Romans 8:32). And what fault brought four little Catholic nuns to their deaths? Nothing but their faith in Christ Jesus. The innocent suffering of the Son of God, the “It is finished” of His cross, resounds through the centuries in the obedient suffering of the martyrs.
And from what do we suffer? We should make a recording of ourselves as we complain about our “issues” of taste, comfort, and selfish pursuits. But the cries of the martyrs rise up to shatter the stone of these opinions and causes, these shallow preoccupations of a self-centered soul.
The four women who helped the sisters care for the residents of the home ran out screaming, “Don’t kill the Sisters! Don’t kill the Sisters!” They were gunned down. And what is my witness to the cross? My impatience, my pride, my stubbornness? What would I risk, to defend right over wrong, to lay aside my opinion for the truth? What issues subordinate my obedience so that I can haughtily pretend to be so morally upright? When was the last time I was obedient to anything except my own opinion? How many innocent people, who were only trying to do their best, have I walked over because the pride of my judgment could not be set aside? This is the examination of conscience prompted by the witness of the Missionaries of Charity, not to mention the Cross of Him Crucified whom we claim to reverence today.
Oh, the disgrace of my selfishness before the reality of Calvary! How dare I approach the Lord of Lords with my hypocrisy and presumption! Where is my obedience born of faithfulness? This is the question. And from the cross comes a voice that says, “Now is the time of judgment on this world, now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (John 12:31-32). The judgment on us came from that Missionary of Charity who wrote, “And because of their faithfulness they were in the right place at the right time and were ready when the Bridegroom came.” To be “in the right place at the right time” meant death but only until the One who had been lifted up could draw them to Himself. And all because of a faithful obedience.
Bishop Glen John Provost