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The Mystery and Meaning of Martyrdom

Let’s say a boy was conceived in a moment of drunken lust. The father disappears. The mother hates being pregnant and attempts an abortion. In the womb the child knows nothing but hatred, stress, fear and loathing. He is born to a distressed and broken woman who can’t care for him. Let’s imagine that she is a drug addict who takes out her own rage and frustration on the child. So he is neglected, beaten, blamed and rejected. What kind of a man will he turn out to be? It doesn’t take much thinking to see how sin produces rage and violence.

When this individual story is multiplied many times over no wonder our whole world is erupting in mindless chaos, violence and hatred.

The Christian story is that Jesus Christ comes into the midst of this horror and says to the irrationally violent, “You want someone to blame? You’re looking for an innocent victim to torture and kill? You’re looking at him. It’s me.”

So Christ Jesus takes the blame, and after that establishes the model for martyrdom.

The Christian martyr therefore is very different from the so called Muslim martyrs who die in jihad. The Christian martyr is a lamb to the slaughter.

Now here is the truly mysterious part: the Christian martyrs perpetuate and complete the cross of Christ. St Paul said it himself, “In my sufferings I complete what is lacking in the cross of crucified lordChrist.”

There is therefore a deep theology within the mystery of martyrdom. The true martyrs really do “take up their cross and follow Christ” and as they do so they share with him in the redemptive action in the world. With  him they embrace the horror. They accept the blame. They take on the grim reality of the irrational rage, the frustrated hatred and the fury that comes from the fires of hell itself.

Then in a reversal we still cannot understand fully, the violence is purged, the enemy is vanquished and sanity is restored.

This horror is at the heart of humanity and this is why only the Catholic faith continues to celebrate and bring in to the present moment every day the one, full, final sacrifice of the Cross.

It is there that the answer which is beyond words is held, and it is this is why we say with St Paul, “We preach Christ and him crucified.”