June 29 - The Feast of St Peter & Paul

Who is a saint or a martyr? Often in day-to-day life when a person is very quiet we call that person a saint. When a person sacrifices his or her life for his faith we call that person a martyr. Is this the Biblical and Christian understanding of a saint or a martyr?

To investigate this let’s consider two saints and martyrs, St. Peter and St. Paul from the New Testament. They were very active and noisy people. Then why are they called saints or martyrs? What are the main qualities of a saint or a martyr?

First of all saints and martyrs were men and women of their own time. They had a sound understanding of the societies that they lived in. They always tried to evaluate their societies critically to improve the quality of life for the people who lived in their societies.

Secondly, they often made every effort to defeat the self-centred and selfish attitudes and become useful members of their communities. They tried to think and do more for the betterment of other people than for themselves.

Thirdly they were human beings who strived to change the structures of the societies to serve common people very specially the poor in the society.

Fourthly, they were committed to what they believed. In that process, some people had to lay down their lives. Actually, the martyr comes from the Greek word “marturia”. The root meaning of this world was to witness. Most probably in the early church, many people who witness their faith had to lay down their lives. This would have created the present meaning of the word martyr as a person who lays down his or her life for his or her faith.

Do you think that these sorts of people lived long ago and they don’t exist today? Just look around you, then you could find these saints even today.

In fact, according to St. Paul, all of us are called to be saints. We are called to witness our faith. Often we think to fulfil this calling we need to do great things, which are not possible for ordinary human beings like us. Here we tempt to forget that all great things start with a small step.

As I told you earlier according to St. Paul all of us are called to be saints. We are called to be men and women who fulfil the will of God for the furtherance of God’s kingdom here and now. In that process, we may be called to become martyrs before we die.

How can we fulfil this task? We cannot fulfil this task at once. In our day-to-day life, it is our responsibility to take small steps, which are expected of saints and martyrs.

We are called to recognise the signs of our time and act accordingly. Look at the life of a person like St. Joseph Vass. Under Dutch persecution in the 18th century, he disguised himself and served the Christians and other common people in Sri Lanka.

But the real Biblical meaning of saints and martyrs is to set part persons to fulfil the will of God here and now. This is a challenge for all of us. We have the example of people who have gone before us. We are called to follow in their footsteps by becoming effective and meaningful in our own contexts that we cared called to serve.

This is why our identification with the people who are suffering and affected by war is very important. In those situations, we are called to offer our lives as a living sacrifice. We are called to be martyrs before we die. We are called to be saints before we leave this world.

Therefore as we remember saints and martyrs let’s commit ourselves to grow in this process to be effective and faithful citizens in God’s Kingdom here on our earth. May God bless you, Amen.