Reflecting on recent events over the last week, my mind has been repeatedly drawn back to the thought of martyrdom. I’m not sad about it. On the contrary, I’m very much at peace with the idea that our faith is now being attacked more than ever. It is at once validating, liberating, and challenging. Martyrdom may be – nay, is – the future. Now, I’m not saying we should all start living off the grid and building priest-holes in our crawlspaces (St. Nicholas Owen, anyone?). Although neither of those would be half-bad ideas, I find myself more in agreement with Fr. McCloskey on this. Instead, what I am saying is that it’s always good to be prepared. You never want to be caught off-guard when the martyr-makers come to your door with the torches and pitchforks and iron combs, etc. Otherwise, you might open the door when they come rounding up the Christians and be all like:
Let’s face it, in our heads, we all imagine our own moments of martyrdom to be a bit more like this:
You know it’s true. Don’t try to deny it. Consider thinking now what you’ll say to get their attention (the following are taken: “Viva Christo Rey!” “Flip me over, I’m done on this side.” “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first!”). While you’re pondering that, check out this list I’ve composed for you (including a few principles and a few practical notes):*
9 Ways to Grow a Spirituality of Martyrdom
- Practice purity. I’ve previously theorized that as the red crown of St. Maximilian Kolbe stood for martyrdom, the white crown, commonly linked with purity, stood for white martyrdom, the type enjoyed (enjoyed?) by those who would have suffered martyrdom had they been unfortunate (fortunate?) enough to have lived in a period of great persecution. The distinction between red martyrdom and white martyrdom is this: that one is dying for Christ so to live for Him, and the other is living for Christ so to die for Him. A red martyr is far more likely to come from a man who has already lived the life of a white martyr. What is white martyrdom if not purity from the world – death to the world – for the sake of life with Christ? Practice purity.
- Practice humility. Being a martyr is not about some sort of eleventh hour gotcha zinger before your parting breath. It’s a lifestyle of sacrificing oneself for Christ. It’s about love, not pride. Live it now through humility and, God willing, you’ll have the grace to die with nobility rather than snark.
- Go looking for opportunities to be a martyr. Now, if you want to find the best opportunities to become a martyr, there are two ways. The first is the all-in, death-wish fantasy martyrdom, such as St. Francis’ (failed, on both counts) attempt to convert a sultan. The second route, however, is what we Christians need to emphasize perhaps most of all: witness. Witness, as we Catholics know, takes all forms. It can be loving and quiet service to the poor, the needy, the elderly. It can be stalwart prayer in front of an abortion clinic. It can be preaching the Gospel in the home, the classroom, or a street corner. It can also be – and usually will be – the manifestly simple: “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). Whatever its form, witness is at the very core of what it means to be a martyr.
- Be a sign of contradiction. One particularly important thing to remember about being a witness today is what Old Man Simeon told the Blessed Virgin 2000 years ago: to be a witness, whether Christ or Christian, one must be “a sign that will be contradicted” (Luke 2:34). You can even get the whole hipster Christian thing going. The opinions you’ll express and the lifestyle you’ll live, well, you’ll be one of the folks who practiced it in your earthly life, before it was cool for all of eternity.
- Pray. We are in constant need of renewal and so are our spiritual lives. I’m on a spiritual upswing right now. I’m certain to have ups and downs in the future, times of relative strength and weakness in my prayer life. I just have to keep at it.
- Fast. May I just say I’m super excited about this new call for the re-institution of meatless Fridays as the year-long norm in the United States? (This is especially great coming on the heels of California’s recent, lame push for meatless Mondays.) PLEASE, bishops, do this for us. We need you to make demands of us so we can see that we have to take the faith seriously. Aside from that, fasting from foods and other pleasures helps us to keep focused on what really matters.
- Give alms. The government wants to take over basically all matters of social welfare. Show them there’s no need. Help take care of your brothers and sisters to the extent you’re able. Some of us are on the poorer end of the pay scale. That’s okay. Do what you can. It doesn’t have to be money. It can be spiritual enrichment, teaching, catechesis, spending time with the lonely. We’ve got to start caring for our fellow men and I mean this as much for myself as for anyone: just live it.
- Remind yourself every day what it means to be a martyr and ask God for the grace to live it out. Read the lives of the saints. Watch movies about the saints (note: check out the entire length of the cinematic classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, embedded at the end of this post). Pray the Litany of the Saints. Ask God for the grace – indeed, the mercy – to pray that you may be a perfect witness for Him, alive or dead.
- Last but not least, just to help you work out your salvation in fear and trembling: Beware the millstone.
May God be with us and bring us all to meet in heaven as His faithful witnesses!
*None of this post should, in any way, be construed to imply that I am any better at being a martyr than any other man. In fact, I ate several cookies while writing this post. THAT’s how good I am at fasting.