|Devotion to Our Lady||
Blood and Martyrs
We were redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, and we are now living in the Age of Martyrs. Or should we say, we are potentially redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, and we are now potential martyrs in the Age of Martyrs. In this month of the Precious Blood and in this Age of Martyrdom, let us see the connection between the Precious Blood and martyrdom.
The Precious Blood
The words “Precious Blood” are of divine origin, coming from Holy Scripture, inspired by the Holy Ghost, who inspired St. Peter to write: “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers: but with the Precious Blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
What is St. Peter telling us? He is saying that our redemption was accomplished by the shedding of the Blood of the Son of God, Who became man and died for our salvation on the cross. Having sinned and thereby having lost God’s friendship, the human race could not have been saved unless God had become man in order to die on the cross for our salvation.
For sin is not just measured by the gravity of the action, but it is also measured by the dignity of the one who is sinned against. Since God is an infinite Being, any sin committed against Him is an infinite offense. Yet we are mere finite creatures—and a finite creature cannot pay an infinite offense. Only an infinite being can pay an infinite. In simpler terms, it is like a human being (with an average life-span of eighty years or so) taking out a 1,000 year mortgage. No chance! No way!
Spiritual ‘Financial’ Aid
In His pity and compassion, moved by love, God became Incarnate in order to have a human nature, so that as a human being He could pay the human debt for sin; and as an infinite being, He could pay an infinite debt. There is nothing more basic to our Faith than this mystery of divine love.
This means that He had a human body and a human soul. It means that He could suffer in His body, indeed could die a bodily death, not because He had to but because He wanted to out of love for us. He could have paid the debt in a less gruesome way, but He chose to die the tortuous death of the Cross (and all that preceded it) in order to try and show us:
(1) the gravity and expense of sin, and
(2) the extent of His love for us.
For He Himself said: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), yet Our Lord went one step further, He laid down His life for His enemies also.
The Only Way He Knew―The Only Way He Could
The only way that Christ could die was by being put to death by His enemies, who crucified Him on Calvary. “The wages of sin is death: (Romans ). Yet Christ had not sinned, so He would not die naturally as a consequence of sin—just as Adam and Eve would not have died had they not sinned. Being the sinless Lamb of God, He could not die of any sickness or disease which, for us, is a punitive consequence of Original Sin.
Christ, therefore, in order to die, had to be killed and He chose to killed in a way that would have Him bleed to death. He had to shed His blood in order for His soul to leave His body, which thus died on the Cross so that we might be redeemed.
Jesus not only had a human body that could bleed to death, He also had a human will that could choose this death on the first Good Friday. That, in fact, is the essence of sacrifice. To sacrifice means to voluntarily surrender something precious to God. Christ sacrificed the precious possession of His human life so that He might restore the divine life of grace to the human race.
Hallmark of Catholic Spirituality
Over the centuries, devotion to the Precious Blood has been one of the hallmarks of authentic Catholic spirituality. In the Litany of the Precious Blood, we pray:
“Blood of Christ, falling upon the earth in the agony, save us”
“Blood of Christ, shed profusely in the scourging, save us”
“Blood of Christ, poured out on the cross, save us”
“Blood of Christ, price of our salvation, save us”
“Blood of Christ, without which there is no forgiveness, save us”
So the Litany goes on with one repeated theme. God became man to shed His blood on Calvary so that we might reach the Heaven for which we were made. All of this is part of our Faith. As Christ told us, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This could be rephrased as, “Without the shedding of My Precious Blood, you could not even hope for Heaven.”
The Age of Martyrdom
The Precious Blood of Christ and our martyrdom (whether bloody or unbloody) belong together. We believe that, by His death on the cross, Christ merited all the graces we need to reach Heaven. He won all the graces necessary for our salvation. He gained all the graces that the human race needs to reach its eternal destiny.
But we also believe that what Christ did by dying for us on the cross requires that we die on our cross by cooperating with the graces that Jesus won for our redemption. He could not have been more clear. He told us:
St. Luke reports it: “And he said to ALL: ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me!’” (Luke 9:23).
St. Matthew reports it: “Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me!’” (Matthew 16:24).
St. Mark reports it: “And calling the multitude together with His disciples, He said to them: ‘If any man will follow Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me!’”
St. Matthew then adds the clause of Jesus that rules out any kind of spectatorship from the bleachers: “And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me!” (Matthew 10:38).
Just to drive the point home, both St. Matthew and St. Luke report Our Lord saying elsewhere: “He that is not with Me, is against Me: and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth” (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23). To be “with” Our Lord, also means to be “with the Cross.”
St. Paul approaches it from another perspective, saying: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction; whose God is their belly; and whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19). “For as many as desire to please in the flesh, only that they may not suffer the persecution of the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:12).
Love For Love―Blood For Blood
We must cooperate with Christ’s grace if we wish to join Him in eternity. He was crucified by shedding His blood. We must be crucified by shedding our blood in witness to our love.
All of this is elementary Christian teaching. The Precious Blood of Christ does, indeed, provide us with the light and strength we need to reach Heaven. But we have to do our part, otherwise Christ’s passion and death on Calvary would have been in vain.
Our Age Is ‘THE’ Age
Our Lord said that without Him, we could do nothing (John 15:5). Without the Precious Blood of Christ we can never be martyrs in this Age of Martyrdom. What are we saying? We are saying that the present time (20th and 21st centuries) is the Age of Martyrs par excellence. Ours is THE Age of Martyrs.
We are inclined to think that martyrs are those ancient men and women in the first centuries of the Church whom we commemorate by name in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when we say, “We honor the apostles and martyrs,” and then name after the apostles, “Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian.”
Unless we pinch ourselves and make ourselves wake up to reality, we imagine martyrs to be commonly associated with the distant history of the Church, and certainly not with our own times. What a miscalculation!
Just the Facts, Ma’am! Just the Facts!
A conservative estimate places the total number of martyrs, who died for Christ up to the liberation edict of Constantine in 313 AD, at around 100,000. We call that period of ‘massive’ persecution the Age of Martyrs. Yet, the number of Christians who have died for their faith since 1900 is several million. In the Sudan alone, during the 1950s, over two million Catholics were starved to death by the Muslims, because they refused to deny that Mary is the Mother of God since her Son is the Ibn Allah, the Son of God. There have been more Christian martyrs, since 1900, than in all of the preceding centuries from Calvary to 1900 put together.
The Greatest Proof
The Church considers martyrdom as an exceptional gift and as the fullest proof of love. By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master, by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world, as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood. Although few persons, relatively speaking, are presented such an opportunity, nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men. “Everyone therefore that shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father Who is in Heaven. But he that shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father Who is in Heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). They must be prepared to make this profession of Faith even in the midst of persecutions, which will never be lacking to the Church, in following the way of the cross.
Greatest Sufferings in the Last Days
However, just as the principal sufferings came to Christ towards the end of His life, so too will the principal sufferings come to the Mystical Body of Christ towards the end of time. Ominously, Sr. Lucia of Fatima says: “The Most Holy Virgin has made me understand that we are in the last times of the world. She has told me that the devil is about to wage a decisive battle with the Virgin, and a decisive battle is a final battle, in which one side wins, the other side loses. Also, starting with the present time, we belong either to God or we belong to the demon; there is no middle ground” (Lucia to Fr. Fuentes, 1957).
Therefore, it is hardly surprising that Our Lady speaks of tremendous persecutions, calamities, upheavals, catastrophes and chastisements for our times. “The small number of souls, who hidden, will preserve the treasures of the Faith and practice virtue will suffer a cruel, unspeakable and prolonged martyrdom. Many will succumb to death from the violence of their sufferings and those who sacrifice themselves for the Church and their country will be counted as martyrs” (Our Lady of Good Success) … “The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer” (Fatima) … “
The End and the Means to the End
When God gives anyone a task, He also gives them the means to be able to accomplish it. If God asks for martyrdom, He will give the grace to be able to go through with it. Yet, God will not give us that grace until we need it. It is good for our humility and spirituality to be not just a little scared, but very scared—it makes us turn to God when we see that we have not the courage for this; it makes us pray harder; it makes us realize the price of sin and salvation.
If martyrdom is the end of many, then Our Lady is means for all. “Continue to pray the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, because only she can help you” (Our Lady of Fatima, 1917). “The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son. Pray very much the prayers of the Rosary. I alone am able still to save you from the calamities which approach. Those who place their confidence in me will be saved … I have prevented the coming of calamities by offering Him the sufferings of the Son on the Cross, His Precious Blood, and beloved souls who console Him forming a cohort of victim souls. Prayer, penance and courageous sacrifices can soften the Father’s anger” (Our Lady of Akita, 1973).
Already, centuries before, the Blessed Virgin revealed to St. Bridget: “I am the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of Mercy; I am the joy of the just, and the gate of entrance for sinners to God; neither is there living on earth a sinner who is so accursed that he is deprived of my compassion; for everyone, if he receives nothing else through my intercession, receives the grace of being less tempted by evil spirits than he otherwise would be. No one, therefore, who is not entirely accursed [by which is meant the final and irrevocable malediction pronounced against the damned], is so entirely cast-off by God, that he may not return and enjoy His mercy, if he invokes my aid. I am called by all the Mother of Mercy, and truly the mercy of God towards men has made me so merciful towards them.” And then she concluded by saying: “Therefore, he shall be miserable, and forever miserable in another life, who in this life, being able to do so, does not have recourse to me, who am so compassionate to all, and so earnestly desire to aid sinners.”
The Blood of Mary
A consoling thought is that the Precious Blood of Christ came from the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was what Our Lady furnished on her part at the moment of the Incarnation, as we read in The Mystical City of God, by the Venerable Mary of Agreda: “Having conferred with herself and with the heavenly messenger Gabriel, about the grandeur of these high and divine mysteries, her purest soul was absorbed and elevated in admiration, reverence and highest intensity of divine love. By the intensity of these movements and supernal affections, her most pure heart, as it were by natural consequence, was contracted and compressed with such force, that it distilled three drops of her most pure blood, and these, finding their way to the natural place for the act of conception, were formed by the power of the divine and Holy Spirit, into the body of Christ our Lord.
"Thus the matter, from which the most holy humanity of the Word for our Redemption is composed, was furnished and administered by the most pure heart of Mary and through the sheer force of her true love. At the same moment, with a humility never sufficiently to be extolled, inclining slightly her head and joining her hands, she pronounced these words, which were the beginning of our salvation: ‘Be it done unto me according to thy word’ (Luke 1:31). At the pronouncing of this ‘fiat’― so sweet to the hearing of God and so fortunate for us―in one instant, four things happened. First, the most holy Body of Christ our Lord was formed from the three drops of blood furnished by the heart of most holy Mary” (Venerable Mary of Agreda, The Mystical City of God).
Thus, in a sense, Our Lady gave her blood for Christ at the start of His life on Earth. She also mystically shed her blood in a bloodless martyrdom during the Passion of Death of Christ. She will also be there at our martyrdom—whether it be bloody or bloodless; quick or drawn-out. Let us remember, once again, her words as Our Lady of Good Success: “The small number of souls, who hidden, will preserve the treasures of the Faith and practice virtue will suffer a cruel, unspeakable and prolonged martyrdom. Many will succumb to death from the violence of their sufferings and those who sacrifice themselves for the Church and their country will be counted as martyrs.”
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us!
Modern Day Martyrdom
Our Lady has spoken of the martyrdoms of our age on several occasions. “The small number of souls, who hidden, will preserve the treasures of the Faith and practice virtue will suffer a cruel, unspeakable and prolonged martyrdom. Many will succumb to death from the violence of their sufferings and those who sacrifice themselves for the Church and their country will be counted as martyrs” (Our Lady of Good Success).
Martyrdom of Persecution
Not all the faithful who suffer for Christ also die for Christ. Opposition to the Christian Faith and way of life does not always end in violent death for the persecuted victims. Consequently, it is well to distinguish between what may be called martyrdom of blood and martyrdom of opposition, which is bloodless indeed, but no less―and sometimes more―painful to endure.
Not all the victims of persecution die at the hands of a godless government. Millions more are ostensibly free to walk the streets and live in a home. Yet they are, in effect, deprived of every human liberty to practice their religion and to serve Christ according to their Faith. If they teach their children catechism, the parents are prevented from enjoying such privileges as decent living quarters, or having any kind of skilled job. If they are seen attending church, they are first warned, then threatened, and finally penalized―even to the loss of their possessions.
So the sorry tale goes on, and has been going on for years, in spite of the conspiracy of silence in our American press.
But that is not the whole picture. We need to shake ourselves into awareness that our country is going through persecution. It is no less real for being subtle, and no less painful for being perpetrated in the name of democracy.
What do we mean? We mean that any priest or religious, any married or single person in America, who wishes to sincerely and fully live up to his Catholic commitment, finds countless obstacles in his way and experiences innumerable difficulties that accumulatively demand heroic fortitude to overcome and withstand.
Christ’s Beatitudes versus Modern Attitudes
All we have to do is place the eight beatitudes in one column and the eight corresponding attitudes of our culture in another column, and compare the two.
► Where Christ advocates poverty, the world despises the poor and canonizes the rich.
► Where Christ praises gentleness, the world belittles meekness and extols those who succeed by crushing anyone who stands in their way.
► Where Christ encourages mourning and sorrow for sin, the world revels in pleasure and the noise of empty laughter.
► Where Christ promises joy only to those who seek justice and holiness, the world offers satisfaction in the enjoyment of sin.
► Where Christ bids us forgive and show mercy to those who have offended us, the world seeks vengeance and its law courts are filled with demands for retribution.
► Where Christ blesses those who are pure of heart, the world scoffs at chastity and makes a god of sex.
► Where Christ tells the peaceful that they shall be rewarded, the world teaches just the opposite in constant rebellion and violence and massive preparation for war.
► And where Christ teaches the incredible doctrine of accepting persecution with patience and resignation to God's will, the world dreads nothing more than criticism and rejection; and human respect which means acceptance by society, is the moral norm.
The Age of Martyrdom is Today
On the bloody side, the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, has had more Christians who were martyred for Christ than in all the centuries from Calvary to nineteen hundred included. Communism has played a major part in this—where, behind the old ‘Iron Curtain’, millions were slaughtered for their Faith. To this day, innumerable Catholics are dying for their Faith at the hands of Muslims, who are told by the Koran to either convert Christians from their idolatry of adoring the man Jesus as though he were God, or put them to death.
But our focus here is on our own country. Call it an “unbloody martyrdom”. But have no doubt that to live an authentic Catholic life in America today is to live a martyr's life—or at least to enter the beginning of a prolonged martyrdom, where the ‘civilized’ torture—and at times not so civilized torture—will get progressively worse from here on in.
Only heroic bishops and heroic priests, heroic religious, heroic fathers and mothers, heroic faithful, will survive the massive persecution of the Catholic Church in our country today. We call ourselves the Land of Liberty. But the only liberty that is given freedom is the liberty to do your own will. Pro-choice is not just a clever phrase. It is the hallmark of a culture in which millions have chosen to do what they want and make life humanly impossible for those who choose to do what God wants.
Martyrdom of Witness
We still have one more type of martyrdom to reflect on, and it is, in a way, the most pervasive of all because no follower of Christ can escape it. This is the martyrdom of witness.
What do we mean by martyrdom of witness and how does it differ from the other two? It differs from them in that, even in the absence of active opposition―the imitation of Christ must always face passive opposition. From whom? From those who lack a clear vision of the Savior or who, having had it, lost their former commitment to Christ. All that we have seen about the martyrdom by violence applies here too, but the method of opposition is different.
Here the firm believer in the Church's teaching authority; the devoted servant of the perennial teaching of the Church; the convinced pastor who insists on sound traditional doctrine to his flock; the dedicated religious who want to remain faithful to their vows of authentic poverty, honest chastity, and sincere obedience; the firm parents who are concerned about the religious and moral training of their children and are willing to sacrifice generously to build and care for a Christian family―natural or adopted―such persons will not be spared also active criticism and open opposition. But they must especially be ready to live in an atmosphere of coldness to their deepest beliefs.
Sometimes they would almost wish the opposition were more overt and even persecution would be a welcome change. It is the studied indifference of people whom they know and love, of persons in their own natural or religious family, of men and women whose intelligence they respect and whose respect they cherish.
This kind of apathy can be demoralizing and, unless it finds relief, can be devastating.
To continue living a Christ-like life in this kind of environment is to practice the martyrdom of witness. Why witness? Because it means giving testimony to our deep religious convictions although all around us others are giving their own example to the contrary.
It means giving witness twice over: once on our own behalf as the outward expression of what we internally believe and once again on behalf of others whose conduct is not only different from ours but contradicts it.
David versus Goliath; Minority versus Majority
Wherein lies the martyrdom? It lies in the deprivation of good example to us on the part of our contemporaries, and in the practice of Christian virtue in loneliness, because those who witness what we do are in the majority--numerically or psychologically--and we know they are being challenged and embarrassed by the testimony. We witness to them, indeed, but they are not pleased to witness who we are, what we stand for, what we say, or what we do.
Notwithstanding all of this, however, it behooves us to look at the positive side of the picture. We must remind ourselves that this witness of ours is not so sterile as we may suppose; quite the contrary. Although we may be, or at least feel, often quite alone, we are not alone at all. Not infrequently our severest critics can become our strongest admirers. In any case, witness that we give by living up to the conviction of our Faith is surely demanding on human nature. That is why we call it martyrdom. But it is a witness to the truth and God's grace is always active in the hearts of everyone whose path we cross.
Power of Martyrdom
If we would know the power of this martyrdom of witness we have only to read the annals of the early Church. The handful of believers, whom St. Peter baptized on Pentecost Sunday, were as a drop in the immense culture surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Yet see what happened. This small group of convinced faithful were able, in less than three hundred years, to turn the tide of paganism in the Roman Empire. For a long time they were deprived even of the basic civil rights accorded other citizens. They were often hunted like animals, and the catacombs tell us that they had to hide when celebrating the Liturgy and hide the tombs of their revered dead.
But their patience and meekness finally prevailed. Yes, but only because it was supported by unbounded courage, born not of their own strength, but of the power that Christ promised to give all His followers that shall witness to His name everywhere. This promise is just as true today. All that we need is to trust in the Spirit Whom we possess, and never grow weary in giving testimony to the grace we received.
This is what Christ was talking about when He told us not to hide our virtues but to allow them to be publicly seen, like a candle on a candlestick or a city on a mountaintop. We should not be afraid that by such evidence of our good works we shall be protected from vainglory by the cost in humiliation that witnessing to a holy life inevitably brings. There will have to be enough death to self and enough ignoring of human respect to keep us from getting proud in our well-doing. God will see to that. On our part, we must be willing to pay the price of suffering in doing good, which is another name for being a living martyr, that is, a courageous witness to the life of Christ in the world today.
The phrase, sanguis martyrum est semen Christianorum― “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians” ―was not a pious sentiment. It was a literal fact of history. The more blood was shed by Christians in dying for their Faith, the more Christianity expanded throughout the pagan world.
Paganism is as old as human history. In one sentence, paganism is a culture of untruth and a culture of death. Error and human sacrifice played a major part in the life of many pagans. We Christians too have our ‘human sacrifice’—we call it martyrdom. However, it is not something we do to ourselves, it is something we suffer as coming from the hands of pagans and other enemies of the Church.
Over the two thousand years since Calvary, Christianity has had to constantly contend with pagan ideas, pagan laws; in a word―with a pagan culture that hated Christianity for the same reason that it crucified the Incarnate Truth, who became man to teach the world how to serve God here on earth, in order to possess Him in a blessed eternity.
There are differences, however, between a paganism that has never been Christianized, and a once-Christian society that has become paganized.
This state of neo-paganism or modern paganism, is the condition in which faithful and believing Catholics find themselves surrounded by, as we approach the third millennium. In a country like America, whose supreme court in the early years of this century called a Christian nation, they find themselves surrounded by a paganism that is literally directed by the prince of this world. It is a paganism whose father is the evil spirit, whom Christ identified as the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning.
Death & Lies
There are two effects of this modern paganism which no one can rationally deny. It is first of all a culture of death, and secondly it is a society penetrated with the untruth. Politics lives a lie; the Protestant religions preach a lie; the Atheists believe a lie; the world lives a lie.
Can anyone doubt that our society is a culture of death? The lowest statistic for the number of abortions throughout the world is sixty-five million. One once-civilized nation after another has legalized the abortion of not only the unborn, but of the newly born. Infanticide is now part of accepted American practice. So-called euthanasia and assisted suicide are accepted as part of modern life.
On the side of truth, even Protestants (in error themselves) see how bad things are. Marshall McLuhan, the renowned Canadian Protestant philosopher of social psychology and communication theory, wrote: “The modern media are engaged in Luciferian conspiracy against the truth.”
Basically, this is what an even more reliable source, Our Lady of La Salette, also said: "Lucifer, together with a large number of demons, will be unloosed from Hell; they will put an end to Faith little by little, even in those dedicated to God. They will blind them in such a way, that, unless they are blessed with a special grace, these people will take on the spirit of these angels of Hell; several religious institutions will lose all Faith and will lose many souls. Evil books will be abundant on Earth and the spirits of darkness will spread everywhere a universal slackening of all that concerns the service of God ... The true Faith to the Lord having been forgotten, each individual will want to be independent and be superior to people of same identity, they will abolish civil rights as well as ecclesiastical, all order and all justice will be trampled underfoot and only homicides, hate, jealousy, lies and dissension will be seen, without love for country or family."
Millions of words are published every day and heard over the internet, radio and television. Very consciously and deliberately, much of this written and spoken communication is not true. The media broadcasts a lie and the world lives that lie.
Our Lord called the devil the "father of lies" and this father of lies in the prince of the world. It is estimated that ninety percent of the books borrowed from American libraries are fiction. Whole nations are living in a dream world created by the media, and the dreams are scientifically calculated to keep the human mind from contact with reality.
We define “truth” as conformity of the mind with objective reality. On these terms, must we not say that the evil spirit is demonically successful in deceiving whole nations by filling their minds with lies?
The Need for Martyrs
Given the widespread culture of death and plague of untruth in our day, is it any wonder that the followers of Christ must pay dearly for their loyalty to the Master, who identified Himself as the Life and the Truth?
You do not remain faithful to the Savior without paying for it. This has been the story of Christianity since the first Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified by His enemies. Why did they crucify Him? Because He taught that we were made for a life that will never end, and because He would not compromise on the Truth which He had received from His Father.
This has been the verdict of Christian history ever since, and will remain the same until the end of time. Those who want to remain loyal to Jesus Christ must expect to suffer for their witness to Incarnate Life and Truth. Another name for this suffering witness is martyrdom.
What is Martyrdom?
The best description of martyrdom was given by Christ Himself just before He ascended into Heaven. He said to them: “You shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Here we have capsulized in one sentence the motivating power of martyrdom, its nature, and its apostolic purpose.
Towards the end of His life on Earth, Jesus described in quite striking terms what “witnessing” to Him could entail: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall put you to death: and you shall be hated by all nations for My Name's sake. The brother also shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the son: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and shall put them to death. And you shall be hated by all men for My Name's sake: but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved” (Matthew 10:21-22; 24:9). The defining factor is “for My Name’s sake”! We live for Christ’s sake; we suffer for Christ’s sake; we die or are put to death for Christ’s sake.
Martyrs For Christ
The source of strength to suffer for Christ comes finally from the Holy Spirit, who is said to give power. In the language of the New Testament, this power is the same kind of power by which miracles can be worked. The nature of martyrdom is to witness, except that when Christ spoke to the disciples He did not say “You shall be My witnesses,” but, “You shall be My martyrs,” which tells us exactly what we want to know.
The essence of being a martyr is to be a witness. And we know what a witness does. He gives testimony publicly that something he saw or heard is true. He has experience of a fact or an event, and as a witness he declares that what he says or signs his name to is so. He gives evidence to others that what he testifies to should be believed. Why? Because he personally knows.
We are liable to miss the preceding adjective “my” in the clause “You shall by My martyrs.” This prefix is crucial. Those who are martyrs, are witnesses to Christ. They testify, if need be with their blood, that what they believe is true because they have known Christ.
The implication is that in order to be a witness, even to martyrdom, one must have experienced Christ, in a way comparable to what Peter told the early Christians: “Whom having not seen, you love: in Whom also now, though you see Him not, you believe: and believing shall rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified; receiving the end of your Faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Believe Strongly, Die Bravely
So it was in the apostolic age, and so it is in ours. In order to witness to Christ we must believe in Him so strongly that we are filled with His joy. This joy is, of course, as Peter explained, not devoid of pain. But it is genuine and unmistakable. It is also profoundly communicable. In fact, one of the paradoxes of martyrdom is the positive happiness that a strongly committed follower of Christ has in suffering for Christ.
This is brought out dramatically by St. Luke in describing the second summons of the Apostles before the Sanhedrin, after they had been warned not to preach about the Savior. The Apostles were flogged and warned again not to speak in the name of Jesus. As they left the jail where they had been scourged, they were glad to have had the honor of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name of Christ:
“And calling in the Apostles, after they had scourged them, they charged them that they should not speak at all in the name of Jesus; and they dismissed them. And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:40-41).
They would all, eventually, lay down their lives for Christ—even St. John in a certain sense, for had he not been miraculously preserved by God, he would have been martyred in the cauldron of boiling oil where they had placed him.
If They Hated Me, They Will Hate You
“If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you” (John 15:18). Today, the world has, for the most part, rejected Christ. It is but a small step from rejecting and eliminating those who profess to follow Christ. We are in the age of the minor apostasy. Many, when threatened, will abandon their Faith. We need to pray to the Queen of Martyrs and the Apostle martyrs for the strength to witness for Christ in that crucial moment. “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him that can destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matthew 10:28).