A famous quote attributed to Tertullian states that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” This quote speaks to how the real life sacrifices and martyrdoms that are faithfully suffered by Christians, often breathes new life, hope and charity into the community of believers. It testifies to the transformative power of God’s grace and love to draw others into the faith after witnessing another’s faithful suffering unto death.
Regarding Christian missions and ministry, martyrdom is rarely if ever one’s first or the most popular choice! Martyrdom in the classical and literal sense, leads directly to one’s bodily death and is usually accompanied and associated with much torture and long-suffering. Even after decades of Christian service and sacrifice, who can confidently say they would choose martyrdom, especially if their executioners gave them an opportunity to continue living for simply publically denouncing/renouncing their Christian faith (this is called apostacy)?
As Catholic American, few if any of us will find ourselves confronted with literal martyrdom and the challenge of apostacy, as many of our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters often do today. Even so, as an America Catholic the reality and call to martyrdom may still eventually find its way into our lives as we journey towards the Kingdom of God. In as much as sin, evil and death is an inescapable part of human life, the path of martyrdom – even if not a literal death – will almost always somehow find its way into our lives via some form or another. What are some of the ways that martyrdom can surface in our lives as Americans?
Supporting a holy and just social issue: People actively work for just and holy social issues may find themselves experiencing some form of martyrdom because of their work. It can materialize in the form of quietly discontinued friendships or as a limiting of professional or academic opportunities by those who misunderstand or are outright opposed to their chosen social cause or issue. Some may even find themselves digitally or legally targeted and in the cross hairs of their opponent’s hired guns…
Living with illness: Living with and caring for a loved one with a serious illness or struggling to live with an illness oneself can also result in an experience of martyrdom. Caring for the ill requires a very real time, economic and emotional investment. Some illnesses in themselves – like cancer, mental illness or AIDS – carry the additional burden of misunderstanding and stigmatization, and can result in a very real loss/death in many different ways.
Specific kinds of vocational/work: Specific work choices, especially those service vocations requiring an inordinate amount of time, sacrifice or danger and which can spill over into the personal and family lives of the participants may yield martyrdom – especially in one’s personal and family lives. Common examples include the police officers, firefighters and physicians – people choosing these service vocations often experience a very real martyrdom, often in their personal relationships.
Faithfully living out Christian family and marital lives: Any Christian marriage and family seeking to publically live out and proclaim their faith in our contemporary secular society will undoubtedly experience some form of martyrdom at the hand of those who eschew, misunderstand or feel threatened by the religious and spiritual aspects of life.
Consistent and dedicated work at growing spiritually: Finally, any person who seriously embarks on and consistently undertakes the spiritual journey, seeking to grow in holiness through daily prayer, meditation and service will almost always experience a real personal martyrdom of their ego, as the Holy Spirit works to transform them from simply being good people to eventually becoming holy (and yes there is a difference). Responding to God’s call to grow in holiness will necessarily bring us personally to the Cross, which few, even those on the journey – willingly embrace.
It is easy to see how each of these life choices can result in a very real social martyrdom, martyrdom in personal relationships and even a personal/private martyrdom in one’s person.
Unlike the often short but horrific reality of literal martyrdom, these forms of martyrdom are often experienced over a long period of time and can extend to almost our whole lives.
Yes, the Gospel’s call to love, serve and bear the Cross awaits us daily. Whether immediate or long term, this call and invitation more often results in the martyrdoms of those who are willing to accept it.
Yes, our common call to bear our Cross is a common call to martyrdom.