16 February 2024

Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B


The Repentant Peter

'Repent and believe in the gospel' (Mark 1:16; Gospel).

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Mark 1:12-15 (English Standard Version Anglicised, India)

The Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Cupola Decoration
Early Coptic Painter [Web Gallery of Art]

One of my teachers in the Columban seminary in the 1960s was a saintly priest, Fr Edward McCormack. Father Ted, as we knew him, spent most of his life as a priest teaching Scripture to Columban seminarians in Ireland and the USA. He also taught our class Latin.

I vividly remember one occasion when he celebrated our community Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. In the Traditional Latin Mass Matthew 4:1-11 was always read, and still is. That's now the Gospel for Year A in the New Mass. As he was preaching  it was clear that he had a deep, personal sense of the horror of Satan tempting Jesus, God who became Man, of Evil trying to prevail over Love, God himself. 

We have daily examples of the power of evil. One is the murder on 12 February 2015 of 2o Coptic Orthodox Christians, Egyptian men working in neighbouring Libya and one other man, Matthew Ayariga, probably from Ghana - like the countless OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) - working abroad. They were beheaded simply because they were Christians.

In a meeting four days later with a delegation from the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, Pope Francis said the following.

I would now like to turn to my native tongue to express feelings of profound sorrow. Today, I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: 'Jesus, help me!' They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

The vast majority of Christians in Egypt, about ten percent of the population, are Coptic Christians and according to tradition they trace their origins to St Mark preaching the Gospel in Alexandria in the very early days of the Church. Most are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Though they are not in communion with Rome, the Catholic Church recognises all their sacraments. A minority of Coptic Christians are in full communion with Rome as the Coptic Catholic Church. They number around 200,000.

These are the men who were martyred:

·                     Bishoy Adel Khalaf           

·                     Samuel Alhoam Wilson  

·                     Hany Abdel-Masih Salib

·                     Melad McCain Zaky         

·                     Abanoub Ayad Attia       

·                     Ezzat Bushra Nassif

·                     Yousef Shokry Younan   

·                     Kirillos Shukry Fawzy      

·                     Majid Suleiman Shehata

·                     Somali Stéphanos Kamel              

·                     Malak Ibrahim Siniot       

·                     Bishoy Stéphanos Kamel

·                     Mena Fayez Aziz              

·                     Girgis Melad Siniot          

·                     Tawadros Youssef Tawadros

·                     Essam Badr Samir             

·                     Luke Ngati           

·                     Jaber Mounir Adly

·                     Malak Faraj Abram          

·                     Sameh Salah Farouk       

·                     Matthew Ayariga.

A note in the Wikipedia entry says of Matthew Ayariga: It was later learned that this 21st victim was named Matthew Ayariga and that he was from Ghana. (A few sources say he was from Chad, but most say he was from Ghana) . . . His remains were finally transferred to Egypt and laid to rest with the other martyrs at the end of September 2020.

These men are now honoured as saints by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, to give it its full name. The remains of the 21 martyrs were laid to rest in the newly-built Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland in the village of Al-our where 13 of the martyrs were from.

The Roman Martyrology contains many lists of martyrs like the one above. In some monasteries these lists are read each day during the Office of Prime. The Roman Canon, also known as Eucharistic Prayer I, includes two such lists of martyrs of the early Church, one before the Consecration and one after.

May all Christian martyrs who shared in the temptations of Jesus Christ and in his Crucifixion obtain for us the courage to be fearless witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ in our daily lives. (The Greek word from which the word 'martyr' derives means 'witness.) 

May the witness of the 21 men martyred in Libya on 12 February 2015 inspire us to take the words of Jesus in today's gospel to heart: Repent and believe in the gospel.

Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland
Al-our, Minya, Egypt

Traditional Latin Mass

First Sunday in Lent

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 2-18-2024 if necessary).

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11. 

The Temptation of Christ
Tintoretto [Web Gallery of Art]

And the tempter came and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread' (Matthew 4:3; Gospel).


Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
Over the ages, so many Christians have been brutally tortured and/or murdered.
We never forget all those in Indonesia that got killed... And the mainstream media looked the other way.
There is evil in this world and may God help us to survive and let the good win over the bad and evil.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

I found this article by Courtney Mares of CNA on Catholic World Report, dated 15 February 2024: Vatican hosts veneration of relics of 21 Coptic martyrs of Libya on first feast day.

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
May God reward all those martyrs that lost their lives because of being Christian...