Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

In his au­di­ence with pil­grims from El Sal­vador soon af­ter the mar­tyr Oscar Romero was be­at­i­fied, on 30 Oc­to­ber 2015, Pope Fran­cis told the faith­ful present: “From the very be­gin­ning of the life of the Church, Chris­tians have al­ways be­lieved that the blood of mar­tyrs is a seed for Chris­tians, as Ter­tul­lian said. To­day too, in a dra­matic way, the blood of a great num­ber of Chris­tian mar­tyrs con­tin­ues to be shed on the fields of the world, with the hope that it will bear fruit in a rich har­vest of ho­li­ness, jus­tice, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and love of God. But we must re­mem­ber that one is not born a mar­tyr. Arch­bishop Romero re­marked, ‘We must be will­ing to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this hon­our . ... Giv­ing life does not only mean be­ing as­sas­si­nated; giv­ing life, hav­ing the spirit of mar­tyr­dom, means of­fer­ing it in si­lence, in prayer, in the hon­est ful­fil­ment of one’s duty; in this si­lence of ev­ery­day life, giv­ing life a lit­tle at a time’.”

The word “mar­tyr” de­rives from the Greek word μάρτυς (mar­tus), an eye or an ear wit­ness. Orig­i­nally, the mar­tyr was a wit­ness of Christ’s res­ur­rec­tion (Acts 1:22). As re­counted in the Book of Acts on the out­pour­ing on the Holy Spirit on them, the wit­nesses of Je­sus were to bear wit­ness to him through­out the world. “But you shall re­ceive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my wit­nesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Sa­maria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

When Chris­tians started be­ing per­se­cuted, Je­sus’ word be­came so clear in their lives. Their heroic ex­am­ple con­vinced many of the pow­er­ful ve­rac­ity of their faith. No won­der many oth­ers em­braced their faith. “And when they bring you to trial and de­liver you up, do not be anx­ious be­fore­hand what you are to say; but say what­ever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).

As Father John An­thony McGuckin put it in his book The West­min­ster Hand­book to Pa­tris­tic The­ol­ogy, up to this day, “Chris­tians re­gard the mar­tyr’s task in the time of their trial [is] to be above all one of wit­ness (mar­tyria) or pub­lic con­fes­sion of the faith.” Mar­tyr­dom of the blood shows the Chris­tians’ per­se­ver­ance of fol­low­ing their Lord, Je­sus Christ to their Gol­go­tha – the shed­ding of their blood. It is in­ter­est­ing that the sec­ond cen­tury pro­lific Chris­tian writer from Carthage, Ter­tul­lian, in his trea­tise On Mod­esty (De Pu­diti­cia), writes: “Christ is in the mar­tyr” (no. 22). Ter­tul­lian’s af­fir­ma­tion makes per­fect sense when one ob­serves what we find in Acts 9:4, where Je­sus con­fesses that he is present in the Chris­tians Saul was per­se­cut­ing. “Saul, Saul, why do you per­se­cute me?” (Acts 9:4).

Be­sides the mar­tyr­dom of the blood there is also the mar­tyr­dom of ev­ery­day life. In other words the wit­ness of those or­di­nary peo­ple who, as Sr Bene­dicta Ward ex­plains in her book The Desert Fathers: Say­ings of the Early Chris­tian Monks “were sin­cerely con­cerned to live out their un­der­stand­ing of the Gospel”.

We do not need to be monks in or­der to es­pouse this kind of mar­tyr­dom which the Chris­tian tra­di­tion dubs “white mar­tyr­dom”.

In his book Ortho­dox Spir­i­tu­al­ity: A Prac­ti­cal Guide for the Faith­ful and a Def­i­nite Man­ual for the Scholar, Father Dim­itru Staniloae wrote: “Chris­tians in the world can’t ex­er­cise such rad­i­cal self-con­trol as monks, but we too can prac­tice a cer­tain amount of mod­er­a­tion ... If we ac­cept them [i.e. those toils and trou­bles] with pa­tience, we can be pu­ri­fied from our pas­sions, al­most the same as monks. If self-con­trol is more of a virtue of monks, pa­tience is more that of lay peo­ple, although nei­ther should to­tally for­get the virtue of the oth­ers.”

Am I ready to bear wit­ness of Je­sus Christ by be­ing pa­tient and vig­i­lant over my pas­sions? Is this not a pow­er­ful way of be­ing a con­vinc­ing mar­tyr in to­day’s world?

Oscar Romero

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