The Chinese Boxer Rebellion in the 1900s killed nearly 32,000 Chinese Christians and 200 Western Missionaries. Among these devoted Christians who gave their life for their faith, Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang stands out because, at the time of his death, he was an opium addict who had not received the Sacraments for 30 long years.
Ji was raised in a devout Christian family, and he was a respected and charitable doctor in his community. Fate be blamed, the opium he took to abate a disturbing stomach ailment took hold over him, and he was addicted to it in no time.
Though he went to frequent Confession, Ji found himself in the grips of a powerful addiction that refused to succumb to any means of resistance. His parish priest and confessor eventually told him that he could not continue to repeat the same sin in Confession anymore. Confession requires a conscious resolve to repent and sin no more, and this repeated sin, in the 19th century, was not understood as an illness. He was henceforth restricted from receiving the Sacraments, but he continued visiting the Church and stayed true to the Lord’s ways. He remained sincere to his faith because He believed in a Merciful Father.
Many assumed that he would be the first to deny the Lord when faced with the threat of persecution. But along with his son, grandchildren, and daughters-in-law, he persevered till the very end. In fact, Ji provided spiritual consolation to his fellow Christians as they were imprisoned and awaiting execution.
Stories record that as they were dragged to prison, his grandson, shaking with fear, asked him, “Grandpa, where are we going?” He calmly and jubilantly answered: “We’re going home.” He went to his death, singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope John Paul II canonized him in the year 2000.
I was driving home when I noticed two street signs that seemed incongruous. The train station and shop signs were pointing in the wrong directions; the exact opposite ones, to be precise. If I were a tourist, a traveler who is not familiar with the suburb, I would have followed the sign and got lost. I guess somebody had moved the street signs as a prank or even as an intentional deception. In our walk with the Lord too, we need to know who is navigating us—God, ourselves, others, or the evil one. If we are not aware of our surroundings, we can easily get lost or misled. This Lent, whose voice will we listen to? Judas…the crowd…Pilate…or Jesus…?
To be good at anything, we have to put time, effort, and practice into it. The same applies to our preparation for eternity. How well are we going to do at the end of year exams if we have put little or no time towards studying during the year? Similarly, how well will we stand up on judgment day when we are held accountable for our lives? In our preparation period on earth for eternity, how much of our life was spent in prayer, good works, and sacrifice? Our Lord paid the ultimate price for our salvation, but we have to play our part. As He has graciously allowed us to be part of that sacrifice, let us not waste this valuable opportunity. He, through Calvary, has given us a chance to be part of His redemption, to be part of His sanctity, consequently allowing mere humans to be called into sainthood. What a privilege! As my mother would always remind us, children, this life of ours on earth, short or long, is but a preparation period, the springboard to eternity. How we fare in the structure of eternal life will be determined not only by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but by every thought, word, and deed we perpetrated during the time we spent on earth.
If your sacrifices are dragging you down and causing you to dread Lent—take heart. Our Lady at Fatima gave the children a prayer which offers compelling reasons to sacrifice. Her words may help dispel your Lenten dreads. The prayer begins: “O Jesus, it (this sacrifice I am making) is for love of You.” Why not borrow those words and make them your own? Telling Jesus you are doing this hard Lenten thing for love of Him may remind you why you are denying yourself in the first place: you are making room in your heart, so that you may love Him more. Further, the prayer helped the children offer their sacrifices for “the conversion of sinners.” You can do the same. When you make a Lenten sacrifice, offer it for a specific loved one who is living far from God. “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of......” Praying in Our Lady’s words will not lessen the difficulty of your sacrifices; but, because it sweetens them with love for Jesus and for lost souls, her words may truly help to dispel your Lenten dreads.
I am not one of those holy souls who look forward to Lent. However, I do have a few friends and family members who do. So, I try to take note of why that is the case. Just last week, my mom mentioned she was looking forward to Lent so she could invite her band, who are all senior citizens, to her parish fish fry. She said she’s really looking forward to it, since most of them aren’t Catholic but have mentioned that they like attending fish fries. After enjoying their traditional fish and chips, my mom is planning on reserving a room in the parish hall so the band can make music together after dinner. They call themselves the Silver Foxes and often visit nursing homes together to spread a little joy. My mom is a joyful evangelist, even at age 80! And she has unlocked the secret that Lent is for more than making penitential acts, but it is a time for growing the Kingdom of God by growing the Body of Christ.
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