16th January 2008
Cardinal Seán Brady’s homily for the titular church ceremony in the Church of Saints Cyricus and Julitta
“This Church is a reminder that, more than ever today, we need fearless and faithful witnesses to the joy of following Christ, even in the midst of our daily challenges and trials” – Cardinal Brady
Your Eminence, Cardinal Foley, Padre Antonio, my fellow disciples of Jesus Christ,
The readings of our liturgy confront us with a stark truth, a truth which confounds the wisdom of this world. It is this, that those who seek to serve the Lord will not be spared the mystery of suffering. In fact, in the words of St Paul, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will experience some form of persecution or suffering.
For those who wish to lead others to the joy of following Christ, this is not an easy truth to hold. What human being would be attracted to a way of life that involved inevitable suffering? This is even more difficult in a world where convenience and comfort are such an important part of our culture. Yet, in his second encyclical letter, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict invites us to accept the full implications of this mystery. ‘It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed,’ he explains, ‘but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.’ (n.37)
In our liturgy we see this mystery at work in the life of the Holy Family. For the sake of the Word made Flesh, Mary and Joseph abandoned everything and became migrants in a foreign land. Today millions of human families know the trauma of this experience. They know what is to be uprooted because of war, famine, economic displacement or persecution. We are reminded in today’s Gospel that God has entered in to the experience of their suffering.
In our second reading we hear of this mystery of suffering in the lives of Paul and Timothy. Very close to this Church, in the Marmertine prison, Paul was imprisoned for his proclamation of the truth. He goes on to remind us of the persecutions he endured in places such as Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. He then tells us, while still bound by chains in prison: ‘Here is a saying you can rely on: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure with him, we will also reign with him.’ This simple catechesis on suffering must have been a great consolation to those early Christians who gave their lives for the Lord only a short distance away from us here in the Colosseum. What a source of hope it continues to be for those who today face the challenge of Christian discipleship amidst the hostility of many of the secular cultures of our world, or in places where the freedom of religion is not respected. It is a mystery which continues to be lived in a particular way by the Christian community in the Holy Land.
I have just returned from a visit to the Holy Land by representatives of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe and North America. We met with the Latin Patriarch and other Church leaders of the Latin Rite. We had the wonderful experience of visiting a Catholic Parish there and of speaking to students at Bethlehem University. It was very moving to hear about the difficulties of daily life in the town of Christ’s birth which is now walled off from the rest of its homeland. It was inspiring to see the joy of a small Christian community in Samaria as it celebrated the Sunday Eucharist with great joy, life and devotion. I was reminded that these are the people who have kept the message of salvation alive since the time of Jesus in spite of so many difficulties and trials. It was very uplifting to hear the Patriarch, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, remind us that since the time of Jesus the Christian community in the Holy Land has always been ‘the little flock’ of the Lord, always a small and vulnerable minority. Yet he went on to express his confidence that not alone will the Lord’s ‘little flock’ continue to survive – it will also grow in faith. Such words in the midst of the daily trials of Christians in the Holy Land are a challenge to us all but especially to those of us who enjoy the freedom and relative prosperity of the West. They challenge us to deepen the witness and joy of our lives as disciples of Jesus here in our own land.
We must continue to pray for our sisters and brothers in the Holy Land. We must continue to express our solidarity through practical financial support and visiting the Christian community there as part of our pilgrimage to the Holy places. Most importantly of all, we must pray for courage and wisdom on the part of local political leaders. We pray that their feet will be guided along the way of peace, that they will grasp the opportunity provided by talks launched in Annapolis last year and that all the people of the Holy Land – the people of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – will come to know the peace which God desires for the whole human family. In the words of the psalm, let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, ‘Peace be to your homes, on the beauty of your land, shalom – salam – salem!’.
Political leaders carry the greatest responsibility for creating the conditions for peace. The decisions of leaders of any kind can either work for or against the freedom and dignity of the human person. We see a powerful example of this in our first reading. Ben Sirach expresses his gratitude for being delivered from the hands of a dishonest and threatening King. There is a direct parallel here with the martyrdom of Saints Cyricus and Julitta. Legend tells us that Julitta and her three year old son Cyricus had fled Rome under persecution. They went to Tarsus were they were betrayed by friends and identified as Christians. Julitta was violently tortured. When asked to renounce her faith before the emperor, we are told that the child Cyricus professed his faith while in her arms and both were subsequently decapitated. Word of their heroic witness spread far throughout the Christian world and their memory is honoured to this day in the names of Churches as well as place names in Italy, France, Britain and Germany, to mention just a few.
I am very happy to have been entrusted by the Holy Father with the care of the memory of Sts Cyricus and Julitta through possession of this Church in the Diocese of Rome. It will be a constant reminder of my duty as a Cardinal to imitate their faith, especially in the midst of suffering. I am also happy because this is the Church which is passed each day by seminarians of the Irish College on their way to their studies. It was also the Parish Church of the first Irish College in Rome and no doubt well known and frequented by the staff and students there. The Church of Sts. Cyricus and Julitta is in the heart of classical Rome, near the Roman Forum, the Collosseum and so many other places which were part of my studies in Ancient Roman Civilisation when I first came here as a seminarian.
I would like to thank Fr Antonio and the Franciscan community for their kind welcome and for their generosity in receiving me formally here today. I look forward to building bonds of solidarity with you and with the local community in whatever time God grants me in the years ahead. Of course, this Church is also the place where Andrew Plunkett is buried, the cousin of my predecessor as Archbishop of Armagh, St Oliver Plunkett. St Oliver left a stipend here that a Mass might be offered each year for his cousin, a reminder of our faith in eternal life. That St Oliver Plunkett, like Cyricus and Julitta experienced martyrdom through beheading, completes the link between this Church and my role as Archbishop of Armagh. Perhaps today, we will not have to risk our lives for the faith in the manner in which they did, but as St Paul reminds us, there are inevitable sufferings which come from following Christ. Perhaps ours will be a ‘white’ martyrdom. Perhaps our struggles will be with the prevailing culture of our time. Maybe they will be with our own inner weaknesses or failings or with the practical circumstances of our lives. From whatever source the challenge to our commitment and faith as disciples might come, this Church and its surrounding area offer a catechesis on the mystery of suffering in the service of others and in fidelity to the Lord. This Church is a reminder that more than ever today we need fearless and faithful witnesses to the joy of following Christ, even in the midst of our daily challenges and trials.
When I was in Jerusalem earlier this week, I walked the Via Dolorosa. I was conscious of all those people for whom the Via Dolorosa is a daily reality. I was also reminded of how surprisingly close the site of Calvary is to the site of the Holy Sepulchre, the empty tomb. This is not just a symbolic reality, the proximity of suffering and joy is a daily reality in each of our lives. It is the reality of the Paschal mystery. The truth of our experience is that sometimes the night is darkest just before the dawn. We cannot know the joy of Easter Sunday without the pain of Good Friday.
What we celebrate in the Eucharist is the final word of this mystery – HOPE. And in the words of St Paul, spes non confundit – our hope is not confounded. The victory of Christ over death, his victory over violence and all forms of evil is already won. It is certain. Goodness will ultimately prevail, peace will eventually come and our endurance will bring us salvation. Through this Eucharist we celebrate the paschal mystery of our hope. As we do so let us commend whatever trails or sufferings we experience to the care and example of Sts Cyricus and Julitta. It is in them and in all the martyrs that the mystery of suffering becomes for us the mystery of hope – et spe salvi facti sumus.
Notes for Editors
- Cardinal Seán Brady, taking possession of the title of the Church of Saints Cyricus and Julitta in Rome, will begin with a liturgy of welcome delivered by the Rector of the Church, Fr Antonio Votta. This is followed by a Mass which will be celebrated by Cardinal Brady and concelebrated by Monsignor Liam Bergin and Fr Albert McDonnell, Rector and Vice Rector respectively of the Irish College in Rome. Also concelebrating the Mass will be representatives of Irish religious houses in Rome e.g. Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Pallotines and Irish priests living and studying in Rome. During the Mass a Papal Declaration conveying the title of the Church to Cardinal Brady will be read by the Church Rector, Fr Votta. The Mass will also be attended by the local community, Irish people living in Rome and friends of the Cardinal. The Church of the Saints Cyricus and Julitta is located at: Chiesa dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta, Via Tor Dei Conti 31 Fori Imperiali Roma
- St Patrick, St Malachy and St Oliver Plunkett are the Patron Saints of the Archdiocese of Armagh.
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