We're no strangers to the lore of the martyrs: their sacrifice, their bravery, their unshakable beliefs. But why do it? What is the incentive, the allure? Word on Fire contributor Jared Zimmerer examines the appeal of martyrdom and why it's not only something we crave but something we can do.
Throughout history, men and women have given the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe. Whether that cause is for the good nature of faith, freedom and family or the ever promising yet always short-lived notions of money, grandeur and worldly honor, people tend to find the sacrifice worth the fatal end. The history of the Catholic Faith is riddled with servants of Christ who have endured and glorified some of the worst physical pains known to man. Without knowledge of the good they died for, their sacrifice seems not only vain, but idiotic. However, the transcendent characteristic of their deaths, which can only make sense to those willing to search for it, brands the gruesome scenes worthy of celebration.
One of my favorite paintings, the Last Judgment fresco by Michelangelo seen in the Sistine Chapel, depicts a few of the more popular saints in the way in which they were martyred. There is St. Lawrence with his grate and St. Bartholomew with his knife and flayed skin, St. Andrew with his cross, St. Sebastian holding up the arrows with which he was shot, St. Blaise with his wool combs and St. Catherine with her wheel. These martyrs are put upon pedestals through Church history because mankind recognizes their sacrifice. But could that recognition go further than just human admiration? Could it be perhaps that we were made to “die with our boots on” so to speak?...
Father Steve Grunow offers his homily on this the great feast day of the first of the Church's Martyrs — Saint Stephen, who also happens to be Father Steve's namesake. In a time of continual religious persecution around the world, the witness and martyrdom of St. Stephen speaks to the Church in a powerful way.
Today the Church remembers the witness of Saint Stephen, the first of the Church's martyrs. The cruelty of his death is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, as is the manner in which he died, transforming the violence that took his life into an occasion to give witness to an authority greater than those fallen powers who would rule us by fear and threats.
That the Church remembers Saint Stephen today is no accident. Strip away the sentimentality that obscures the story of Christ's Nativity and one realizes that Christ came into this world, and from the first instant he showed his infant face, he was opposed. Recall yesterday's excerpt from the magnificent prologue to the Gospel of John which testifies that Christ came to his own (us) and his own (again, that means us) "knew him not." But worse than this- we refused him.
And many still do...
Father Steve offers his homily for your reflection on this the great feast day of the first of the Church's Martyrs- Saint Stephen.
Yesterday, Christmas day, Islamic militants in Nigeria set off numerous car bombs strategically located outside of Christian churches. At last count, 27 people were dead and dozens were injured. The worst devastation happened outside a Catholic church, as the explosion was timed to coincide with the exact moment that the faithful were leaving after attending Mass.
Such atrocities are not limited to Nigeria. A recent survey of religious persecution throughout the world identified Christians as individuals or groups as most frequently targeted by persecution and violence. Our experience might be otherwise, but for many Christians, practicing and professing the Faith is dangerous business..