On a Little Chinese Girl
(Jer.20:10-13; Rom.5:12-15; Mt.10:26-33)
Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) was a popular theologian on TV and radio. Shortly before his death, he was asked, ‘Bishop Sheen, you’ve inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you?’
He replied that it wasn’t a Pope, a Bishop, or even a priest or a nun. It was a little Chinese girl, eleven years of age. He explained that when the Communists took over China in 1949, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near his church.
After they locked him up, the priest was horrified to look out his window and see the Communists enter the church and break into the tabernacle. In a hateful act, they threw the ciborium onto the floor and all the consecrated hosts spilled out. The priest knew exactly how many hosts there were: thirty-two.
When the Communists left, they seemed not to notice a small girl praying at the back of the church. She saw it all.
That night the little girl returned to the church. Slipping past the guard at the priest’s house, she entered the church and there she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for that act of hatred. Then she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue she received Jesus in Holy Communion. In those days, laypeople weren’t allowed to touch the sacred host with their hands.
She returned every night to pray for an hour and to receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue. On the thirty-second night, after consuming the last host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the sleeping guard. He caught her and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle. The priest saw this heroic act of martyrdom from his window and was grief-stricken.
Archbishop Sheen said he was so inspired by this story that he promised God he’d make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day of his life. He thought that if that little Chinese girl could risk her life every day to express her love for Jesus, then at the very least he should do the same.
If that little child could give witness to the world concerning the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, then he should do it, too.
From that moment on, he said, he would not be afraid to speak out about the love of Jesus. That little girl had showed him what true courage really is; how faith could overcome all fear, and how true love for Jesus in the Eucharist must transcend life itself. [i]
In every place, and in every age, the world needs authentic witnesses who will attest to the truth of Jesus Christ.
That’s what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s Gospel today. He’s preparing his twelve disciples for their mission and he warns them that some people will reject their message about God and his love. You’ll be scorned and threatened, he says, but you must speak out boldly anyway.
Matthew wrote his Gospel in about 85AD, a time when the early Church was heavily persecuted. It seems that things haven’t much changed, because Christianity is still under pressure today. Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world.[ii] Last year, over 260 million Christians in 70 countries were persecuted for their faith. 2,983 were killed, 3,711 were arrested and 9,488 Christian churches and buildings were damaged or destroyed. [iii]
In Australia and many other Western nations, we’re fortunate that opposition to Christianity isn’t quite so obvious, but it still exists. We see it in our politics and in the media. And it’s even in our families, where there’s often a subtle or even a not-so subtle rejection of our faith (Ps.68:7-9). Jesus faced the same thing in his own family (Mt.13:57; Jn.7.5; Mk.3:21).
All through history, many remarkable people have had the courage to witness to their Christian faith. Some were public figures like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Fulton Sheen himself. Others were ordinary citizens, like this little Chinese girl. It’s because of them that we know about Jesus today.
To live any kind of meaningful life requires courage. But to live a Christian life today calls for a special kind of courage. Three times in today’s Gospel, Jesus says ‘do not be afraid’. In fact, that phrase is repeated 366 times in the Bible. [iv]
Fear is something we all have to cope with. It’s a barrier we all must overcome if we are to accomplish anything in life.
And how might we do that? By trusting God. It’s not enough just to believe in God. We must trust him, too. We must really put our faith in him.
Jesus tells us that God knows every detail of our lives, and he promises to protect us. Yes, others can be hurtful, but they cannot touch our souls (Mt.10:28).
So, have courage. Trust in our loving God.
inspire others to do the same.
[iv] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies, Year A. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2019:234