Faces on Faith: A sad reality
My grammar school education, under the tutelage of the good Sisters of Saint Joseph from Holyoke Massachusetts, was a profoundly formative experience in the Catholic faith.
It was during those years that I first remember being introduced to some of the saints that are a part of my Catholic heritage.
I learned of dozens of saints who were historically important in the early years of the Church, but the saints that seemed to stand out from the crowd were those who were called upon to sacrifice their life for the faith, those we referred to as martyrs.
Later in life, when the Roman Martyrology was proclaimed at the noon meal in the Benedictine monastery that I had joined, the number of saints expanded, but it was always those martyrs who managed to capture most of my interest.
As fascinating as I found the lives of the martyrs, there always seemed to be a great distance between me and the history of the early church, where I assumed most of the martyrs were to be found.
Beginning with the deacon Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles, most of the martyrs could be found, I assumed, in the early persecutions of Christians.
There were martyrs in every age, and even some who died, like Isaac Jogues, on American soil.
All of those I admired were, however, separated by many years. They were historical figures that I looked at from afar.
Today everything has changed, and martyrs have become less historical figures and more contemporary companions in this journey we call life.
Indeed, recent statistics suggest that the majority of the estimated 70 million martyrs since the time of Jesus can be found within the last two centuries. Even more frightening is the claim that a Christian is martyred for his or her faith every five minutes.
The sad reality is that I am now living in a moment when men and women are dying for their faith.
There is no expanse of time separating me from those who are called upon to surrender their lives because of what they believe.
The Christians killed by ISIS in Syria and the Middle East, and the Christians persecuted in some 145 countries around the world, are my brothers and sisters.
Like the martyrs of every era, our contemporary martyrs highlight the true cost of discipleship, and they challenge believers everywhere to assess the importance of their faith.
Is my faith made stronger by the witness of those fellow travelers who surrender their lives rather than deny their faith?
Would my faith survive the kind of attacks on Christians that we read about in the newspapers?
I have always been fascinated by the martyrs in every era of the Church’s history, but I am even more moved and inspired by the witness of those fellow Christians who on this very day will surrender their lives because of that they believe.