Many of us maybe found those long-ago New Year's resolutions — just one or more — to be yet another failed attempt to improve ourselves and our lives. The resolve we had a little over a month ago has dissolved and we find ourselves doing the things we have always done, regardless of our previously good intentions. This is a time when we may need to allow ourselves a "re-do," a "mulligan," another chance to change ourselves and our lives.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Agatha, a third-century martyr who suffered sexual abuse and death at the hands of a would-be suitor. Yesterday and tomorrow, we celebrate groups of Jesuit martyrs in India and Japan. Saint Agatha and these Jesuit companions not only give us models to follow in death, but more importantly, in life. Their testimonies are not just about the reasons for their suffering, but the reasons for the way they lived their lives.
Little is known about St. Agatha, but the Jesuits left much to use in our own lives. Those companions, like Saint Ignatius, believed that all of us are meant to live lives of service to God and others. Our lives, our reason for being, are not just about our own thoughts and needs, but about the higher purpose we all serve, to make real in this world God's Kingdom and the common good.
So how does a group of martyrs — St. Agatha or the Jesuit martyrs of India and Japan — help us make changes in our lives? They had great willpower and the courage of their faith, their purpose, even to suffering their own death. Most of us don't even have the ability to exercise more, eat less or any other small thing, let alone the willingness to sacrifice far beyond this moment.
We might think, at first look, that these martyrs are different from most of us; not that they had greater willpower or courage, but that they had a firm idea of who they were, why they were alive and clearly understood their purposes. The reason they could suffer, and be killed, was the reason they wanted to live. They all shared the knowledge that they were only a small and single part of a large and very complex plan, and that the only thing they had to do was to live God's will, as best they could, in their time, day by day by day.
These saints were not always the holiest or the most courageous people. They were, in a humbling way, like us. They struggled and had to restart their lives many times. But they did this with the sure knowledge that God would always give them another chance, and then they learned to give themselves that same opportunity — another chance to stay on track, another chance to rededicate themselves to their higher purpose, another chance to work toward the greater and common good.
They learned, repeatedly, perhaps, that even though they might fail in one attempt, they could try again — and again, if necessary — because life is not about a single moment, but the series of moments God gives us.
So what does can a third-century saint and a couple of hundred 17th-century Japanese martyrs tell us today? They all teach us to give ourselves another chance. Lest we focus only on their deaths, they teach us how to live our lives. That's infinitely more important.
Let remember what God has already done that for us ... and be grateful, and gain new strength from that. That's our lesson from St. Agatha and the Jesuit Martyrs of Japan.
Keep the faith!
A. M. D. G.
D. Highberger, S.J.
P. Stark, S.J.