Martyrdom has been on our minds here at YIMCatholic lately. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once wrote that “death is the affirmation of the purpose of life in an otherwise meaningless existence.”
Our Lord led by example, was killed, and buried, by the well meaning and peace-keeping Proconsul named Pilate.
Jesus was an irritant, see, and Pilate, though knowing in his heart that He was innocent, had Him killed anyway. As Father Ronald Knox put it so simply, such is the way of the world. With Our Lord’s Resurrection though, the Game changed and the God of Ecclesiastes unveiled a Heaven sent major revision to the meaning of death.
Sometimes during the Memorial Acclamation at mass we say “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.” (cf. 1 Cor 15 3-23). He leads by example in all things, because if He did not, Christianity would have been stillborn right there at the foot of the Cross. Instead, after Pentecost, former scaredy cats who hid in fear boldly proclaimed the Gospel in a manner that puts real flesh on the phrase “what…you want to live forever?!”
I don’t think there are any words I can offer to succor the families in Iraq left behind in the wake of the deaths of their loved ones. Archbishop Fulton Sheen has a short chapter in his wee book The Power of Love, though, that reminds us that there is more to the picture than meets the eye. Perhaps these thoughts may provide both solace and hope for the persecuted in Iraq and the world over.
Those Who Suffer Persecution by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
“Blessed are you when all men speak well of you, when you are popular and in the limelight,” is a beatitude of the world.
Let the Lord come into a world that believes that our whole life should be geared to flattering and influencing people for the sake of what they can do for us, and say to them: “Blessed are you when men hate you, persecute you, revile you,” and He will find Himself without a friend in the world, and an outcast on a hill with a mob shouting His death and His flesh hanging from Him like purple rags.
This Beatitude is really the Beatitude of the blessedness of being persecuted, or the happiness of being a martyr. In its full statement it runs: “Blessed are those who suffer persecution in the cause of right; the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you, when men revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely, because of Me. Be glad and lighthearted, for a rich reward awaits you in Heaven.”
When Our Lord spoke of the world, He did not mean the physical world or the cosmos, He meant the spirit of the world which was arrayed against Him and His followers; a world which would one day kill his servants and think it was rendering a service to God, a world that is composed of human nature organizing itself against Divinity.
The Christian is bidden to be happy as Peter and the Apostles were when they were permitted to incorporate themselves to the Cross of Christ in order to share in the glory of His Resurrection. To be tolerated sometimes is a sign of weakness; to be persecuted is a compliment. The mediocre survive.
The persecuted person shows that his belief is taken seriously and the cause for which he stands must be eliminated if evil is to conquer. True it is that evil men are persecuted, but they do not come within this Beatitude, for as Saint Paul said: “If I should deliver my body up to be burned and have not the love of God and my neighbor in my heart, then it profits me nothing.” A martyr must die for the faith, not for his property, nor his good name, nor for the sake of the Party. Self-made martyrs are numerous, but they have no place in the ranks of those who are promised the Kingdom of Heaven for taking the Cross of Christ on their shoulders.
One would expect that a person who is humble and unselfish, merciful and loving of mankind, should expect a peaceful end, but the Lord who made human hearts knew better. He, therefore, closed His Beatitudes by showing the treatment He would have us expect from the world.
Martyrs, witnesses to the Divine Love in the world, are promised the Kingdom of Heaven. They do not possess it merely because they suffer and endure; they rather suffer and endure because they already possess the Kingdom in their own hearts. One great and mysterious fact that is not generally known to the world is that wherever there is persecution on account of the Faith, it always results in a vast catch of souls for the Kingdom of God. Tertullian was right when he said: “Blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
The triumph of truth in Heaven is not enough; it must also have its glorious revenge in the very theater of its humiliations and conflicts. The world must see how mistaken it was in rejecting Divine Love, and must be forced to exclaim again with Julian the apostate: “Oh Galilean! Thou hast conquered!”
From today’s responsorial Psalm, “The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.” Amen.