The martyrdom of witness

by | Sep 4, 2022 | Life, Work and the World

These are turbulent times, leaving us shocked and seeking answers. Too often we seek those answers from popular social media personalities, hoping to find like-minded people and through them find grounding again. These range from openly communist Catholics to speakers leading followers into moral schism, all relying upon their own reasoning and pitching what sounds to be a logical ‘right’ opinion to be followed. But what does the Church actually teach? That the answer lies in our individual holiness not our logical opinion of the situation. 

That may sound irresponsible, but it is the truth of our faith that the act of one member of the body of Christ affects the full body. Our self-reliance and pride impact the entire body of Christ. So too our holiness can and will change the Church. The choice is ours. 

It is our sacred tradition experienced by the saints that God heals and sanctifies us through an authentic desire for growth in relationship with Him. Rather than changing our nature, He perfects it to be in His image, forming both mind and heart with his seven Gifts of the Spirit. In doing so, we become vessels of His grace and through us we bring Him into our lived daily existence. With over one billion Catholics worldwide, we are the force for change within the Church and for society. 

In 1976 Fr. John Hardon SJ (now Servant of God) wrote the book “Holiness in the Church”. In it, he spoke of the white martyrdom Catholics suffer when living their faith in their everyday lives. Nearly 50 years later it remains true, so I thought I’d share a few passages of his wisdom: 

The imitation of Christ must always face passive opposition…from those who lack a clear vision of the Savior or who, having had it, lost their former commitment to Christ.” Fr. Hardon warns we need be prepared to “live in an atmosphere of coldness to their deepest beliefs.”, explaining this to be the “studied indifference of people whom they know and love…of men and women whose intelligence they respect and whose respect they cherish. This kind of apathy can be demoralizing and, unless it finds relief, can be devastating.” Relief can only be found in God Himself through mass, confession, the daily Examen and mental prayer. We must refuel with the Holy Spirit by first emptying ourselves to Him.    

Wherein lies the martyrdom? It lies in depravation of good example to us on the part of our contemporaries, and in the practice of Christian virtue in loneliness, because those who witness what we do are in the majority – and we know they are being challenged and embarrassed by the testimony. We witness to them indeed, but they are not pleased to witness who we are, what we stand for, what we say, or what we do.”

 St. Paul tells us: 

Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. (Romans 11: 13-15, 29-32)

But there is Hope: 

If we would know the power of this martyrdom of witness, we have only to read it in the annals of the early Church. This small group of convinced faithful were able, in less than 300 years, to turn the tide of paganism in the Roman Empire. For a long time, they were deprived even of the basic civil rights accorded other citizens. They were often hunted like animals, and the catacombs tell us that they had to hide when celebrating the liturgy and hide the tombs of their revered dead. But their patience and meekness finally prevailed. Yes, but only because it was supported by unbound courage, born not of their own strength but by the power that Christ promised to give all His followers that shall witness to His name everywhere. This promise is just as true today. All that we need is to trust in the Spirit whom we possess, and never grow weary in His testimony to the grace that we received.”

Do we love Jesus and the Church enough to suffer today not only for the body of Christ but to bring lost souls to salvation? After all, that is the Divine office we accepted from Jesus in our Confirmation. 

“…in the normal course of Providence, we shall be protected from vainglory by the cost in humiliation that witnessing to a Holy life inevitably brings.” 

And therein lies redemptive suffering. But don’t just ‘offer it up’; ask for the Grace of taking on the suffering of another with the heart of a child 

It is better to be burdened and in company with the strong than to be unburdened and with the weak. When you are burdened, you are close to God, your strength, who abides with the afflicted. When you are relieved of the burden you are close to yourself, your own weakness; for virtue and strength of soul grow and are confirmed in the trials of patience.”  (St John of the Cross) 

Let us share this burden together for the greater Glory of God 😊


(Image of Corpus Christi procession with armed guards by Ricardo Martín, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)

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