A few years ago Cardinal Francis George of Chicago made a shocking statement regarding the extent of growing religious persecution in the United States; he said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” When President Obama blames Ireland’s hard-won Catholic schools for creating divisions similar to those that started the Civil War, childhood idols and politicians ditch purity rings while praising God for the new gay marriage allowances, and women who broke contracts win lawsuits because the court would rather protect sexual freedoms than give a Catholic Archdiocese an honest ruling, the Cardinal’s chilling prophesy sounds realistic. As the country comes closer and closer to eliminating the freedom of religion entirely, martyrdom is preparing to emerge from the shadows of the Middle Ages and take aim at the American faithful.
In light of this approaching reality, one of the first things the mind begins to ponder is the necessity of such a sacrifice. Though the glory and honor of a martyr is unparalleled in Heaven, the reality of pain on Earth is enough to understandably lead even the most devout to consider other options. While the Church does not require any of her children to seek out martyrdom- to purposefully put themselves in situations which would bring about a graphic end- she does need them to be strong enough to suffer in the event that denying faith or dying for it are the only two choices. Like St. Thomas More, who used his wit and words to remain within the law and the Church as long as possible, exploring every possibility before surrendering to the sword is permissible. But just as St. Thomas More eventually reached a point where he could not both serve God and bow to the King, Catholics must be ready to “die his Majesty’s good servant, but God’s first,” just as he did.
When the time comes and a man must pay the ultimate price for his faith, God will not abandon him. Blessed John Paul II writes in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor that the truth for which the man would die “is the truth which sets one free in the face of worldly power and which gives the strength to endure martyrdom.” In regards to a Catholic’s duty to God he says “It is an honour characteristic of Christians to obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29) and accept even martyrdom as a consequence, like the holy men and women of the Old and New Testaments, who are considered such because they gave their lives rather than perform this or that particular act contrary to faith or virtue.” Thus it is a part of the glorious Church tradition to hold on to God in the midst of the storm, to stand firm upon the rock rather than surrender to the current, and let the hot blood of life mix with the sacrifices of the saints reaching back through history, coming together in the altar chalice, so as to finally greet Christ in pure white garments washed in unparalleled love.
The majority of Catholics will not be called to this “supreme witness”; on the contrary the soon-to-be saint writes “although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice.” Hence Catholics must be ready to give up comfort in the name of faith, keeping in mind that their lives in Heaven are dependent upon their actions on Earth, but also knowing in their hearts that God will never present them with challenges they are not strong enough to face, and that they will never have to carry even the smallest crosses on their own.
© 2013. Abigail Reimel. All Rights Reserved.
Photography: See our Photographers page.