‘Martyrdom is not just a phenomenon of the past but continues, and is even increasing, in today’s world. Eighty percent of all acts of religious persecution around the world today are being committed against Christians.’
– Archbishop Eamon Martin
HAVE YOU ever noticed how a song or a hymn or a verse of poetry, that you have known all your life, can change and take on new meaning for you when you hear it in a new or unfamiliar setting? This happened to me recently, and it was a real revelation.
I was invited to the ‘Liturgy of Witness’, at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, on Red Wednesday. This was a special prayer service to remember Christian martyrs and those who have died for their faith.
During the liturgy, Archbishop Eamon Martin spoke with two young people: Ms Colleen Gribben, a teacher at St Catherine’s College Armagh, and Mr Gerard Devine, a teacher at St Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh about how they witness to their faith daily. This was part of ‘Week of Witness’: ‘The Week of Witness invites Christians across Ireland to stand in solidarity with and to bear witness to, the heroic example of our persecuted brothers and sisters in faith across the world.’ (www.armaghdiocese.org)
During this interview Archbishop Eamon regularly asked the question, ‘How do we witness to our Christian faith in our daily lives?’ It is a simple but challenging question. As Colleen and Gerard both shared their personal journey and how they share their faith with the young people they work with daily, the congregation listened intently with great respect, and I am sure that, like me, many came away with that same question ringing in their ears and their hearts.
The liturgy was made up of readings, prayers of intercession and hymns. The hymns were led by a cantor. Her prayerful singing of the hymns added greatly to the liturgy. At one point the congregation joined in singing ‘Christ be beside me’. That beautiful hymn of St Patrick’s Breastplate, which I have heard sung a thousand times in the past. It was sung slowly and prayerfully and for a moment it was as though time stood still, and I was aware of every word being sung. I had closed my eyes and so I was not distracted by anything around me. All I was aware of was this group of people, slowly, softly, prayerfully singing this hymn as one. It was a moment of deep union with and awareness of the Divine Presence. This moment remained with me for a long time. When I spoke with a friend who had also attended the Liturgy, it was extraordinary to hear that he too had experienced this same moment of prayer and awareness of the Divine Presence.
In the days that followed I returned often to this moment in prayer and heard myself uttering the words of the hymn or singing it as I drove along. I found a copy of the hymn and began to read it morning and evening in prayer. I lit a candle and in silence read the words over and over. I allowed each phrase to speak to my heart, repeating it over and over. It was as though the Infinite Divine Spirit had a message for me through the words of this prayer and his message was simple: Christ is with me at every moment of every day. He is in me and all around me. He is in the past, the present and the future. He is in each person I meet. He is in every thought, every word, and every action. Most of all I felt myself drawn to acknowledge the Divine Presence in each and every person I encountered.
When Archbishop Eamon asked the question; ‘How do we witness to our Christian faith in our daily lives?’ For me, I think the first thing to do was to pray. And in prayer accept that God is my strength, he is the source of divine love, peace and harmony. If I allow the Divine Spirit to guide me in the belief that he is the source of unconditional love in my life then being a witness to the Christian faith should shine through every action, every word, every act of kindness, every word of encouragement, every tear of compassion and empathy. Therefore, no matter what your path in life is, whatever your job or profession, whether you are young, old or middling, healthy or ill, rich or poor, what comes from the heart, your heart, in honesty, truth and love, will answer this question for you today: How do you witness to your Christian faith in your daily life?