Faith of the Martyrs

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.        Romans 12:1

These words of Saint Paul have made a very powerful impression on me of late in light of the recent and ongoing persecution of Christians by ISIS. As I watch these tragic events unfold, I am challenged by the faith of those who have died for Christ. I must ask myself, “Am I willing to die rather than renounce my faith in Jesus Christ? Would I have the courage to withstand the pain?” I find myself praying for that courage, and hope the answer is “Yes.” I want the answer to be “Yes.”

But how do I get there? How do I gain the strength of the martyr? I don’t have to look far. In his very next sentence, St. Paul tells us how.

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.            Roman 12:2

If I am to go willingly to my death, I must see that death the way God sees it. I find that the only way this is possible, or even desirable, is to have Christ on my mind and in my heart at every moment of the day. This means a lot of little “deaths” along the way. So often I drift off into the hectic world of my everyday responsibilities, and, just whSacred Hearten I reach my wits end, I remember Christ. I see His face before me. I feel His love for me, and I want to love Him back.

I must see my work through the eyes of Christ. I must see my life as belonging to Christ. I must offer my body as a living sacrifice in everything I do. This must become a habit, my fallback position in moments of weakness. Only then, should the likes of ISIS decide to come to my home and seek me out, will I be able to die for my Jesus. I will see His face before me, and I will be willing to love Him the way He loved me on the cross.

When I am weak, then I will be strong.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

That Awkward Moment When…

Besides being the first Sunday of Lent, February 22 also celebrates the Chair of St. Peter and the feast of St. Peter the Apostle. These are no small matters. Peter, that most rambunctious of Christ’s disciples, is also the most human. The Gospels depict his bravery as well as cowardice, his faith and his foibles. Peter first declares Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, for which Christ recognizes him as the Church’s foundation (Matthew 16:16-19). On the other hand, to save himself Peter quickly denies Christ three times (Mt 26:69-75, Mk 14:66-72, Lk 22:54-62, Jn 18:16-27). Peter and Paul join to make their contributions to the Church (especially so at Rome). The Catechism copy-cropped-img_0320.jpgcelebrates St. Peter’s charism for visible authority while reminding us that the Marian charism—the one of interior holiness—always precedes the Petrine (#773). There are other feast days involving Peter (June 29—Saints Peter & Paul, November 18—dedication of the basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul). These very particular, apostolic reminders link us—in our own locations—to the universal Church that that these apostles founded to proclaim the Gospel.

All that being said, the Islamic State’s recent executions—the burning of a Jordanian pilot, beheading 21 Coptic Christians with a threat to conquer Rome—render moot many, if not all, academic considerations of martyrdom. After all, it’s one thing to write about it; it is another matter entirely to confront the actual, visible reality. I know St. Peter was a martyr; he and so many thousands of believers since have found in Christ the courage to confront death. If we are honest, though, we cannot escape the awkwardness of writing while others actually live.

That living of the faith requires truth-telling. The Catechism discusses martyrdom under the Eighth Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). God is the source of all Truth, and in Jesus Christ God’s truth is made wholly manifest (#2465-6). All Christians are called to witness to this Truth; the martyrs, in dying, bear supreme witness. They also, through their death, fully imitate Christ (#2472). Sometimes martyrs are well-known, others dwell even in death in relative anonymity.  They now rest with God. Meanwhile back here on earth the Church memorializes all the saints—starting with the Blessed Virgin Mother—and thus the martyrs to illuminate the links between the earthly and heavenly liturgies (#1195). These examples encourage and exhort us in our own journey to God.

In the Lenten season the Church encourages us to renew our practice of prayer, fasting, and alms. This requires humility, a virtue rarely praised or valued today (cf. #2559). By knowing we are not God we are thus able to starting praying to God (and with the saints). Humility also forces us to realize, in occasionally awkward ways, that all our words and gestures do not mean much. In 1970 Peter Berger wrote: “In a world full of Nazis, one may be forgiven for being a Barthian.” Referring to the strident style of Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), Berger meant that, in extreme circumstances, unrepentant declarations of gospel truth might be permissible. Perhaps some Christians have spent the last forty-five years wondering if the world has yet filled up with enough Nazis so they can finally start evangelization. The martyrs did not wait, and through their deaths have testified to the good news.

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.