The 103 Korean martyrs whose feast we celebrate today represent a much larger number of over 100,000 Catholics who were persecuted in Korea between 1839 and 1867. At their canonisation in 1984 Pope John Paul II said of the Church in Korea: “This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution.” These martyrs believed in the resurrection of the dead. May we begin this Mass with the same confidence as we acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries.
The tactics of some of the more extreme religious sects has included separating converts from their family and friends. The philosophy behind it is that isolating the person prevents any ‘outside’ influences. Cultists know that their message works best when people only hear one message: their ‘truth’ is left unchallenged and unquestioned by the bonds of family and friendship.
In today’s gospel Our Lord makes a move that at first sight might appear similar: he says that his family are all those who hear God’s word and act on it. Yet, it’s important to remember that Our Lord isn’t rejecting his biological family. He’s actually broadening the human limits of family and kin to include all those who have a relationship with God.
Some people believe their faith to be a ‘private affair’, something to be attended to in the privacy of their own home. Others isolate themselves even more. They don’t share their faith even in their own families. But isolation is a dangerous thing because it encourages us to recreate God in our own image and likeness. No one challenges our conscience or disputes the sanity of our decisions. As self-made ‘islands’ we can remain as untouched and primitive as the most unexplored places on the earth.
Our Lord is present to us today and he sets no boundaries on his love. Our life of faith, as the Book of Proverbs suggests, lies in the give and take of human relationships. Rather than cautioning ‘isolation’ from evil influences, Proverbs teaches us how to act in response to the everyday evils we will face. It teaches us that we can learn from the actions of the wicked. “All the ways of man and woman may be right in one’s own eyes, but it is the Lord who proves hearts.”
To borrow a metaphor from the Book of Proverbs: without other people, our life in faith is simply a matter of chasing ‘bubbles’ that have no substance.