August 29, 2017

Article at Authory

The Surprises of Martyrdom

A priest-blogger—yes, that one, although I hesitate to give him a link—was musing on martyrdom on today's feast of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist:

Speaking the truth to power, and to wider society, about sexual mores, about illicit and immoral unions, can earn you a close haircut. In the Church, asking too many questions about objectively confusing problems can earn you a ... shave.

Uh huh. Interesting how he expects to be martyred for riding his favorite hobbyhorses. Which got me to thinking. Are martyrs ever martyred in ways they expect or for what they expect to be martyred for? Some examples that occurred to me (and in no way intended to be an exhaustive list):

St. Thomas More: St. Thomas did everything he could to avoid martyrdom. If he could have found a legal loophole that would have allowed him to sign off on the Act of Supremacy and on Henry VIII's divorce and remarriage, he likely would have availed himself of the loophole without hesitation and died happily as an obscure Tudor-era courtier. Even when he resigned himself to martyrdom, St. Thomas may well have been expecting the full treatement—which included drawing and quartering—and been surprised that Henry commuted the sentence to a simple beheading.

St. Maximilian Kolbe: Unlike St. Thomas, St. Maximilian lusted after martyrdom his entire life. He is reported to have had a dream when he was a child of choosing two crowns, one of purity and one of martyrdom, from the Blessed Virgin. But when the time came for him to offer up his life in Auschwitz, he was enough of a theologian to have known that the circumstances did not appear then to meet the requirements for martyrdom. To the best of his knowledge at the time, St. Maximilian was just trying to save a husband and father from certain death. In a sense, he sacrificed even his dream of martyrdom to save someone else's life. It was only when John Paul II declared on his own authority that St. Maximilian was a martyr that his sacrifice became commonly accepted as martyrdom.

St. Therese of Lisieux: St. Therese also longed to be a martyr. She wanted to go to the missions in Vietnam in the hopes of ending up beheaded like her hero, St. Theophane Venard (during St. Therese's lifetime, he was not yet beatified). Instead, she died a slow death of tuberculosis in a comfortable bed, surrounded by friends and loved ones. She didn't die a martyr after all, but her mention of St. Theophane in her autobiography brought attention to his cause. She also contributed to the theology of martyrdom with her observation, "Before dying by the sword, let us die by means of pin-pricks."

Perhaps those Catholics who think they are already undergoing "persecution" (including by the Church!) might want to think about embracing a few pin-pricks on their self-directed road to martyrdom.

(Image: Illustration of dying man, Pixabay.)