Sometimes a man dies in such a way as to sum up his entire life in the very act of dying. Such is the case with Brian Mahon.
Everyone here knows what a wonderful man Brian was: a loving husband, a devoted and attentive dad, a great boss, a generous volunteer both at church and in the wider community, and an extraordinary enthusiast about skiing who ensured that all kinds of people would be well served on the Eldora ski slopes.
It is his absence that makes us want to lament in the manner of our first Scripture reading: This death makes us feel “deprived of peace.” It’s easy to share his family’s pain so powerfully expressed in the words, “I have forgotten what happiness is; I tell myself my future is lost.”
But if we wallow in our own pain we will miss the extraordinary thing that has taken place in Brian’s death.
Those of you who were in that room at Eldora’s pump house know: Brian took the bullet that in all likelihood would have found you. Wasn’t it just like Brian to run to the problem instead of running away? Wasn’t it just like him to walk into the room and take charge of the situation and take the venom that was aimed at everyone in that room. Those two shots that took Brian’s life gave the rest of you the chance to escape and save your lives.
“Greater love no one has than to lay down his life for his friends.” This is exactly what happened and this is exactly how Jesus died. Imagine the privilege to die as Jesus died: saving others!
There is something more at work here that needs to be voiced: Brian’s death was a martyr’s death. Let me explain.
Because of some extremists in our world the name martyr has lately been tarnished by its identity with crazed terrorists who think an act of violence would merit them heaven. That is truly crazy thinking.
But for a Christian, a martyr is someone whose whole life bespeaks an authentic identity with the our Savior who rejects violence, does what is right and good, and lays down his life for the sake of goodness and so that others may live.
Dare I declare that Brian is a martyr for the faith? You decide: instead of running away from the gunshot, he ran to it. Instead of acting fearful and timid he bravely encountered the gunman who, it is said, asked him what his religion was. Most people would probably not know what to say to that question at gunpoint. “That’s my business” would be a likely reply; or “what does that matter?”
A martyr in the Catholic Church is someone whose profession of faith results in his death. Our Church’s 20 centuries of history include instances in every century and all over the globe of people who died for our faith. Who would have thought this would happen in Nederland?
A senseless random act of violence by a man who was obviously out-of-his-right-mind? Perhaps. Still, it is not what is done to a man, or even who does it, that marks the quality of the death; it is rather how a man reacts to violence that makes a man a martyr as we understand it in the Catholic Church.
Our Church’s liturgical calendar and practice commemorates feasts of martyrs every month. The apostles were martyred for the faith. Missionaries bringing the good news of the enduring love of God to people all over the world were martyred, like St. Denis of Paris, St. Boniface of Germany, St. Isaac Jogues in New York, St. Paul Miki and his companions in Japan, St. Andrew Kim and his companions in Korea, the Vietnamese martyrs, the Chinese martyrs, St. Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz. And the liturgical color of vestments for a martyr’s feast is red.
If Brian is indeed a martyr, then start looking for miracles. That’s the way Heaven tells us that such brave witness is a delight unto the Lord.