The Seed of the Faith

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Bartholomew the Apostle, who after Pentecost is said to have traveled to the Middle East, where he would ultimately face martyrdom by being flayed (skinned) alive. He is currently buried in a church on the island in the Tiber River, which flows through the middle of Rome. In recent years, at the instigation of John Paul II, this church has also become the home to a display of items belonging to those killed in our own time because of their faith in Christ. This really helps to drive the point home about what it means to lay one’s life down for Jesus- while it may be easy to get a romanticized view of martyrdom when all we see is some stylized, cleaned-up depiction of a saint’s death, when I saw a picture of a priest’s bloody, lifeless corpse lying where he had been shot, next to the actual cross he had been wearing (below), it really showed the depth of the sacrifice for which our love of Christ should prepare us.

As the exhibit wound around the church, I was taken on a tour of the suffering Christians have faced in the last century- from a letter by an Austrian layman killed by the Nazis, to the missal of Archbishop Oscar Romero (killed in 1980 for opposing a corrupt government in El Salvador), to a Bible belonging to a man killed in the Rwandan genocide (below), these personal belongings of those who faced persecution and death for their commitment to follow Christ serves as a powerful reminder that the age of persecution is not ended, and indeed shall not until the end of time.

Well, that’s all well and good, you ask, but how does this impact me? These stories certainly do serve to edify, but what are the odds I will be called upon to offer a similar witness? The Church speaks of two kinds of martyrdom; red martyrdom, that of the shedding of blood, is the first and most well known kind. The second is called white martyrdom, which refers to a kind of spiritual death, not in the sense that our relationship with God dies, but rather that our attachment to the world and our own desires apart from God do. While this doesn’t lead to physical death, it does include persecution from without and, often, doubts from within that cause a great deal of suffering. Both kinds of martyrs make a full sacrifice of themselves to God in a radical way: the red martyrs through the sacrifice of their actual life, and the white martyrs from a similar sacrifice of their life in the world. While the red martyrs faced the sword and emerged victorious, the white martyrs were prepared for such. Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha is an example of a white martyr: while she was not killed for her faith, she did face persecution from her family and others in her community for her belief, yet persevered and is today seen as a powerful witness of the love of God manifest in those who believe.

“Marytr” comes from a Greek word meaning witness. Those who suffered before us, whether in body or spirit, gave their witness of faith to us; are we prepared to do the same? May the martyrs, who suffered for the Faith we join them in professing, intercede for us with our common Lord, that when we face times of trial because of our Faith, we may be given the same courage as them.

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    # by Here Comes Everybody - August 31, 2007 at 11:37 AM

    Enjoyed this article--great explanation of "White Martyrdom"; I see that we are all called to it.