Skip to comments.Embracing the Catechism: The Witness of Martyrdom
Posted on 05/16/2010 5:06:37 AM PDT by markomalley
When we attend Mass this weekend, we are going to meet or re-meet the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen in the First Reading of the Liturgy of the Word:
Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and Stephen said, Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, Lord, do not hold this sin against them; and when he said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:55-60)
The subject of martyrdom is treated within the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a few places. And it is worth a few moments of reflection here.
Stephens martyrdom serves as the model for all martyrs, imitating Christ as he approaches death. Stephen offers himself to God while forgiving his executioners.
The account shows that Stephens death arose during the very early Christian persecution suffered by the neophyte Church during the Apostles time. Saul (who would later become St. Paul, after his conversion experience on the Damascus Road) oversees the demise of Stephen.
Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude.
The word martyr means witness. Martyrdom is the ultimate witness in that one dies for the Faith.
Another well-known martyr, in the years that followed Stephen, was Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in the footsteps of St. Peter, who first went to Antioch before going on to Rome. Ignatius was carted off from Antioch to Rome by the Roman guard. Along the way, his Roman captors allowed him to write letters to his contemporaries in seven local churches. The Letters of Ignatius are highly treasured historical texts that contain several directives from a bishop that laid a foundation for life in the early church.
Throughout Ignatius letters, he implores his flock not to rescue him, and we find this famous quote from him in his letter addressed to the Roman church, before his death in the Roman circus: Permit me to imitate my suffering God I am Gods wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ.
Note how this sentiment from Ignatius echoes that of Christ and St. Stephen who have gone before him. Note well the deep symbolism pertaining to the bread that is the Eucharistic Lord.
Ignatius fortitude in the face of impending death reminds us death is a door that opens to God: Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God.
Ignatius also wrote of his death in this manner: My birth is approaching
That is why the Church records the date of its saints death as their feast days, for on that day they merited eternal life.
Ignatius was martyred in 107AD.
The Church has painstakingly collected the records of those who persevered to the end in witnessing to their faith. These are the acts of the Martyrs. They form the archives of truth written in letters of blood.
Each and every Christian is supposed to give a witness to the faith with the words and deeds of their life, every day of their life, regardless of the manner in which they die.
In a talk I once heard from priest and author, Fr. George Kosicki CSB, I was taken with his description of martyrdom and his prescription for the rest of us, whose form of death yet remains a mystery to us. (And forgive my poor paraphrase of what was a wonderful message from Fr. Kosicki . ) But the essence of the message was this: If you want to get to heaven, become a martyr. Die for the faith and youll go straight to heaven. As for the rest of us, who may be on another path, weve got to die daily. In other words, our faithful witness is given in the lifeblood that we pour out for others in the name of Christ, both in our words and in our deeds.
May we be so faithful that we may one day declare with St. Stephen:
Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.
Thank you... your thread touched my heart.
Every day, we are alive, is less time here, and more time to be with our Beloved Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Or... Every day that I am alive is less time here, and more time for me to be face to face with my Beloved Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Today, I read: Phil 4:4-7.