"Martyrs Made Our Faith"

Martrydom of St. Cecilia, Stefano Maderno

While in Portugal this past week Pope Benedict XVI talked about Christian witness, and faithfulness, within a secularist world: “Seek dialogue, but be ready for martyrdom.”

The pontiff’s remarks on the need for Christians to be ready for “the radical choice of martyrdom” were a tidy lead-in to today’s New Testament reading:

They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them;” and when he said this, he fell asleep.

Deacon Greg Kandra has posted a good homily that talks about Stephen, and Deacons and martyrs, reminding us that “Martyrs made our faith.”:

One of the most common is that permanent deacons are here because of the shortage of priests that started in the ’70s. The real genesis came much earlier, during World War II, in the German concentration camp at Dachau.

During the Third Reich over 2,000 Catholic priests were held at Dachau. One out of every 25 deaths there, in fact, was a priest.

The priest prisoners were kept in cellblock 26, known as “Der Priesterblock.” For the imprisoned priests, this experience was transformative. While in Der Priesterblock, many of them began talking about how to renew the Church when the war was over. How could the Church better serve the world? One answer, they felt, would include bringing back an ancient order of service, the diaconate.

After the camp was liberated, the priests who survived returned to a Europe in ruins – a world desperately in need of evangelization, just as in the first century. Some of the priests formed what they called Deacon Circles of clergy and laity – circles of prayer, and service and charity. By the early 1960s, some of those priests from Dachau had become bishops. They attended the Second Vatican Council. And the rest, of course, is history.

And so it was that the modern diaconate took root and grew – from seeds watered with the blood of martyrs of the 20th century, the martyrs of Dachau.

Greg also relates the story
of how the permanent diaconate within the church grew behind the wholly secularized Iron Curtain, in Hungary, where committed men risked everything to prepare in secret for their ordinations, in order to put themselves at the service of others. These Hungarians joyfully dancing at Easter had to hang on to their faith through systemic secularist oppression.

So, the burgeoning theme is martrydom. What man has done, man can do; what Christians have endured before, still endure today in some parts of the world, and may yet have to embrace once more within the West, where secularists–who do, in fact, have a religion of their own– have ratcheted up their rants against everything but Islam.

A few years ago, pondering the forced conversions to Islam of two kidnapped journalists, I wrote:

This is an enemy thoroughly appreciative of the power of martyrdom, its ability to inspire, to convince and even to claim victory. We seem to have forgotten that martyrdom – a foolish waste, to Reason’s sensibility – is often the key componant toward changing social perceptions and even morals. The virgin martyrs, much derided in our “enlightened” era, were the first women to declare themselves set apart, meant to be more than chattel, able to declare themselves as belonging to no man or house, to “no one but Christ.” An unheard of concept!

Martyrdom is not about justice – it is not about reasonable death. It is about exactly the opposite; it is about facing down what is completely unreasonable and unjust and offering oneself to the cause of what is just – is reasonable. And yes, there is victory in it. But belonging, as it does, to the realm of the Supernatural, that victory is not always obvious and clear. Still, we all know that simply because a thing is not obvious does not mean it is untrue. The Carmelites of Compiegne and Takashi Nagai knew that.

Am I urging the West toward martyrdom, here? No, I am not urging it. But I am suggesting throughout history, martyrs have spilled blood and it has made a difference. I am suggesting that down the line some may well be called to martyrdom, and we might be wise to anticipate it and understand its use. I am suggesting that when one is caught in a fight between darkness and light – a fight that is more super than natural – such blood might well be required. It always has been, before.

Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr, but let no one lust for martyrdom.
–Mohandas Gandhi

Don’t worry, I won’t. As Churchill said, “although prepared for it, I prefer that it be postponed.”

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://!!!! kelleybee

    Beauatiful post, A. Thank you.

  • http://alittleguide.blogspot.com/ Jeff Hendrix

    Mark Twain noted, when threatened by tarring and feathering and being ridden out of town on a rail, “If it weren’t for the honor and glory of the thing, I’d just as soon walk.”

    In Portugal, Benedict also asked the suffering and dying to “help save the world” by offering up their conditions and redemptive sufferings. IMO, doing this is Saying Yes like Our Lady in a special kind of martyrdom and salvific chivalry. Yes to our sufferings. Yes to our dying. Yes in a “witness” (Gr. martyr) to an unredeemed world that needs to see faith and hope and charity embodied before their eyes.

  • James B. Bittner

    Yes, Elizabeth, the storm clouds are gathering … perhaps they will provide a suitable background highlighting ever more the martyrs’ rays of light bursting through to “shine on those (of us) who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

  • Fuquay Steve

    Spectacular post.

  • Sarah Kuvasz

    “Martyrs made Our Faith” The strongest secular evidence I know Jesus was God, is the fact 11 of 13 Apostles were martyrs. They did, in deed make our faith.

  • http://whiterosebrian.deviantart.com Brian

    Actually, secularists have included Islam in their condemnations of religion.


    [I never expected anyone would think that I meant no secularist ever mentions Islam. I'm talking about the pop-culture secularists, who will make mock, deride and sneer at religion, but always seem to confine that sneering to Christians, and Orthodox Jews. I think you probably knew that, too. :-). Once again, please avail check out this tutorial. Thanks. -admin]

  • NYer

    Yesterday afternoon, my pastor and I hosted an “end of year” religious education social for our children, featuring the timeless film: “The Miracle of Marcellino”, followed by some pizza and soda. One of the Lebanese mothers brought along a friend of her 2nd grade son, who immigrated from Iraq with the assistance of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany (NY). I had heard the diocese was assisting Iraqi refugees and suggested she let the parents know about our Maronite Catholic parish where they might feel more at home hearing the gospel read in Arabic. She shook her head and whispered: “They’re Muslims”.

    My jaw dropped, my blood pressure shot up and I was left speechless. Perhaps I had misunderstood. I asked her again – was she absolutely sure they had been sponsored by the RC Diocese of Albany. “Oh yes!”, she replied, “and now they are asking the bishop to sponsor their relatives”. I was furious! What about the christian refugees fleeing Iraq because of persecution for their christian faith? Why is the diocese not sponsoring these Catholics!! She shrugged her shoulders in despair.

    This is the “social justice” agenda of progressive bishops! Meanwhile, Bishop Hubbard continues to close Catholic churches and schools while the Muslim population grows strong enough to fund the construction of a 4 minaret mosque. I am absolutely sick over this.

  • Mary

    “Now, really, I know of no occupation for which mere willingness is the final test.”

    “I do. Martyrs. I am sending you to your death. Good day.”

    G. K Chesterton The Man Who Was Thursday

  • http://whiterosebrian.deviantart.com Brian

    Here’s another sample. This one does quote Dawkins as including Islam.

    Blaming Religion for Sept. 11

    [uh-huh. To paraphrase Clevinger, I always never said that no one has ever criticized Islam. But if you want to continue belaboring it, knock yourself out. I'm sure you can find some recent criticism, a few examples of which will more than match the daily knockabout of Christians! ;-) admin]

  • Greta

    We had this before with the crusades. It seems like as with gulf war 1, we did not complete the mission.

    I always wonder how religions as opposed as Christianity and Islam can actually survive when taken to their extremes within a democracy. The goals of Islam is pretty clear and wherever they gain large numbers, they seem to demand more of their own special slice of the country political system and that it reflects sharia. Where is Islam and democracy working well in our world? Christianity has hundreds of years of experience in democracy with the largest being the USA.

    I am with Patton on this one. If we are to be in war between Christianity and Islam, it would be better to have the other poor bas…. die for their religion. Unfortunately, some religions believe in taking out as many innocent people as they can on the way out with promises of virgins and paradise.

  • B. Durbin

    “Where is Islam and democracy working well in our world?”

    Well, actually, in the US. Which also has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, most of which are peaceful. But just as with anything else, the obnoxious part is much louder than the sane part, so you may not have heard of them.

    (I am aware that Islam is not a founding part of this democracy. But those members who have accepted it are doing quite well with it.)

    [I think Obama, early in his presidency, said something about the US having one of the largest Muslim populations in the world and that being shot down, even in the press. That being said, this post was not about bashing Muslims. -admin]

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