Chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel contains Jesus’ Missionary Discourse, in which He prepares His disciples for their work. He is particularly concerned that His disciples be ready to face persecution. To that end He says: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” (Mt. 10:28)
Those words were especially appropriate for Matthew’s audience in 80 A.D., when his Gospel text was written down. It was a terrible period of persecution and martyrdom for anyone who dared to identify themselves as friends of Jesus and followers of ‘The Way’.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II said: “At the end of the second millennium, the church has once again become a church of martyrs.” Pope Francis echos the same message for the 21st Century. Search online for 21st Century Martyrs. You will see names like Clement Shahbaz Bhatti and Annalena Tonelli.
Mr. Bhatti was shot by a fringe group in Pakistan because he defended the rights of the Christian minority. Ms. Tonelli was shot because she operated a hospital that cared for tuberculosis patients and victims of HIV/AIDS in Somalia. As lay witnesses to their faith, they are on the road to canonization.