Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fight Hard

In a translation full of flowery and technical sounding language (most of which I like, mind you), we come upon today's collect for the Passion of John the Baptist in the Roman Missal:

"Grant that, as he died a Martyr for truth and justice, we, too, may fight hard for the confession of what you teach."

To me, that phrase "fight hard" seems so uncharacteristically simple compared with the usual vocabulary of the Roman Missal. I would have expected something more like "contend vigorously." For whatever reason, the translators took the Latin strenue certemus and put it into very simple language, and I think we're better off for it, at least in this case.

In its simplicity, I take fight hard to have a more visceral connotation that speaks to what fighting is really all about. It comes from the gut.

My homily this morning was all about this, but with a warning. Christians don't fight to win, at least not in the worldly sense. John the Baptist didn't win; he got his head chopped off. But he still fought. He pointed at the injustices of the worldly power and screamed repentance from the rooftops. Yet as far as worldly success goes, he was a failure. He did not bring about a change of heart in King Herod, even though Herod liked to listen to him. He did not bring about change in power structures of his day. Those above him were unmoved by his words and actions. He made no vertical impact.

But those on his own level were watching. They saw his actions. They heard his words. They witnessed the disgusting authority of the powers that were react violently to his message of truth, and they preferred his way to the way of the world. They followed his finger pointing at the Lamb of God and became the followers of Jesus.

Such has it been in every age. The Christian (and sometimes the non-Christian too!) fights for justice and truth, even though the fight is in vain. Justin Martyr fought hard in writing his apologies to the emperor, but his real witness came when he lost that fight and was killed for being a Christian. We call him St. Justin Martyr, not St. Justin Writer.* We fight hard because it is right to do so. We fight hard because it is a witness. Others will see the struggle, the dedication, and the virtue of the Christian. At least, that's the hope.

We certainly hope for success in fighting injustice and institutional evil, but most of the time, it doesn't work out. That's nothing new. We fight hard because we want to be a witness for truth and justice, like St. John the Baptist, pointing his finger at the Truth Himself. We'll probably lose, but we're not in it to win. We're in it to be faithful to Him who is faithful to us.

* - This is why there are no doctors of the church who were martyrs. The term doctor of the church started out as a liturgical distinction, a way of honoring fathers of the church who were not martyred. If a father of the church were martyred, he's not named a doctor. Don't believe me? Here are a few ecclesiastical writers-turned-martyr who were never named doctors of the church: Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Cyprian of Carthage. (Though, full disclosure: Cyprian's opinion regarding re-baptism of lapsed Christians was heterodox, and even contested by then Pope St. Stephen. He's maybe not the best candidate for a doctor of the church. But, he's a martyr, so it doesn't matter.)

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