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Homily Sunday 23 April 2023 (Picpus)

Homily given by the Superior General, Alberto Toutin sscc, on Sunday 23 April, during the Mass of Thanksgiving for the beatification of the Martyrs of Paris, celebrated in the chapel of the Mother House in Picpus.

In the joy of Easter, we find ourselves as a Church and as a family in celebration - sisters, brothers and laity. Look, Lord, and look at us: it is your work that you continue to support. 

Today we are here to give thanks for the work that you have done in your sons, our brothers Ladislaus, Frézal, Marcellin and Polycarp.
In the long hours of solitude in prison, they meditated on your Word in the Acts of the Apostles. They were not surprised to see that the early Christian communities were the object of admiration by many because of their simple life, their sharing and solidarity, and also because of the radiant power of Jesus and his Spirit in their midst. They also saw how they were the object of incomprehension on the part of others, on the part of the religious authorities, who could not bear the shocking news that the One they had condemned and seen die on the cross is alive forever. His death and resurrection were and are astonishing proof of Jesus' unprecedented claim when he revealed to us how much God his Father loves us. 

The community of disciples and apostles witnesses to this closeness of God in Jesus. They bear witness to the presence of Jesus by the way they live together, in the celebration of the faith and in their attention to the needs of their brothers and sisters and by the way they deal with internal tensions, with no retrenchment and with great freedom of speech. Above all,  they witness in the way they love and confess their faith, even in the most adverse circumstances and when subjected to violence. 

This is the testimony of Stephen - the proto-martyr of the Church. He learned from the Lord that life has meaning only when it is given away out of love. It is the risen Lord who now loves and serves through his disciples. They share in his victory. "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

It is this courageous decision of love that transmutes even violent death from within and makes it an offering of love. "Lord receive my spirit and count not their sin against them”.

The violent believe that they can take over the lives of others and even destroy them. But they cannot reach the heart of the witnesses of Jesus like Stephen and our martyred brothers of yesterday and today, who, by looking into the eyes of their murderers, forgave them.  And God continues to love to the end through his witnesses. 

"I think of the great Saint Paul, reading about his sufferings in Acts and in the Epistles” - Ladislaus wrote to Father General Sylvain Bousquet from Mazas Prison: “what I suffer is nothing in comparison: it is much for me, because I am weak. I review so many other saints who are praised for having suffered what I suffer - and then I ask myself why I should not find myself happy with what has made the saints happy. The feasts of each day still give me encouragement; how can I complain when I read the Office of St. Athanasius: - and today, May 3, how can I not be glad to bear a little of that cross whose triumph is celebrated?" 

Their faith was forged in the crucible of trial but also in the confidence of prayer. Whatever happened, they knew they were supported by the prayers of their fellow prisoners and by the prayers of their brothers, sisters, their families and even the catechism children: "Pray and have them pray for us all, not just for me," exhorted Father Henri Planchat in his last letter to Brother Darny from La Roquette.

Let us imagine for a moment the prisoners reciting the words of Psalm 15, each in his own corner but bonded in an invisible and strong communion of faith: 
"My heart rejoices, my soul is glad, my flesh itself rests in confidence: you cannot abandon me to death nor let your friend see corruption.

When they faced the possibility of death because of their faith in Jesus and their service in the Church, then the words and promises of God took deep root in them. They saw with the eyes of hope that God would not abandon them. Supported by each other, by the generosity of a network of lay people, and by the prayers of the Church and her brothers and sisters, our brothers had the courage to throw themselves confidently into the arm of God. 

The witness of our martyrs reveals, in a paradoxical way, the strength of God's love in weakness. Indeed, faith in Jesus does not function as a lightning rod in the face of suffering, calamity or relentless violence. Rather, it is a strength that helps us to face these situations, to go through them with patience and to base our existence on what is more definitive: the love of God manifested in Jesus. This is the certainty that St Paul discovered and transmits to us today. Nothing will separate us from the love of God. Neither danger, nor anguish, nor the sword, nor hunger, nor death, nor powers from above, nothing.  The violent May believe they can snatch life away, yet there is something more ineradicable and resilient, and that is the love of God manifested in the way Jesus loves us. 

"When will our captivity end? But I have resolved not to complain any more [...]" wrote Polycarpe Tuffier to his cousin Charles from Mazas at the end of April and beginning of May 1871. As you say so well, Charles, only God can get us out of this. Yes indeed, and whatever they do, they would not be able to take away God's love and blessings for you. So let us pray to the Lord to come to our aid.

Jesus tells us about the strange fruitfulness that exists in the grain of wheat that "knows" how to die. It is to die well, but to give fruit in others; it is to discover that nothing that is given in time, listening, commitment, service and even one's own life, is lost. Basically, it means having the courage to accept the invitation of the Lord who trusts us and invites us to follow him, and, in so doing, to let him love through us, his body, his church, this religious family. 

Our martyred brothers remind us of the beauty of faith through their lives and let us see that our lives are already hidden in God with Christ, for "where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.” (Jn 12:26)


Let us rejoice, then, with the Church through the witness of our martyred brothers and sisters, and may they intercede for all of us, for the churches of Paris, Mende, Saint Étienne, Sées, and for our religious family of the Sacred Hearts, so that we may taste the joy of knowing that we are already on the side of the victory of the Risen Lord.