Memorial of St Charles Lwanga & Companions, Martyrs
Readings for 7th Friday after Easter (C2)
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”John 21:19
OUR LORD SAYS TO St Peter, “Follow me.” It can sound like a repetition of the initial call three years earlier at the boat. Each of the apostles received such a call. All of us do.
We are all called to follow Jesus. It is a call, and a performative reality: we cannot do it unless God calls us, but to hear it is to obey. Think of how all the Apostles jumped up and followed, leaving all behind. We are called in exactly the same way in our lives. Yet there is something more than the initial call here.
It may seem like something connected to the earlier commands to feed and shepherd Christ’s flock. That came to Peter, indeed. The others also get the command in the same way and we do too. We are all commanded to feed and to shepherd Christ’s people. The act of love is one of kenosis, of self-pouring out. We’re not Christians unless everything God gives us is given away for others. We feed and shepherd by teaching, by sharing our faith and our material goods, by living moral lives in keeping with God’s commands. We do so by performing all the works of mercy – both spiritual and corporeal:
To feed the hungry.
To give water to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To shelter the homeless.
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
To bury the dead.
To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish the sinners.
To bear patiently those who wrong us.
To forgive offenses.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead.
You can see “feed and shepherd” all over that list! But it’s not what we’re here for today. Yet there is something more. There’s one other way we follow Jesus – and he calls Peter to it.
St Charles Lwanga was such a shepherd to his companions, urging them to resist the sexual advances of a predator seeking to humiliate them exactly because of their faith. Let me have my way with you because it will violate your faith: has there ever been a more evil temptation? We know that sexual sins can make us feel literally unclean. Even though confessors have heard it all, sexual sins can leave us wondering has anyone ever been this evil? Sexual sins always involves at least two souls falling – even consuming adult content involves the other parties souls. St Charles and other saints who wrestled with such sins and such temptations call us to stand strong – but they know the world will hate us.
Jesus prophesies about how Peter will die, being led away by people to a place he doesn’t want to go. Jesus says “let me tell you how you’re going to die… Follow me.”
Because of God’s incarnation into this life, this world, this time everything in our life – including our death – has become a way to follow Jesus. What we do now as humans (except for sin) God himself has done. Think about it: drinking, eating, sleeping, chores, even going to the bathroom… God has done it. It becomes a way for us to draw close to God. Death itself is our greatest enemy, but God has gone through death, ripping out the evil of it and turning it inside out. What was the end is now the beginning and can thus continue to follow him.
Charles Lwanga and his companions followed Jesus to their death rather than give in to lust – their own or the King’s. Today we celebrate giving in to lust or even becoming identified with it. May St Charles pray that we can turn back from it and even lead others away from it. Even when it marks us as enemies of the reigning king or the entire world.
If you feed and shepherd God’s people (because of love) the world will not like you. You will die. Follow Jesus.