Friday, February 06, 2015

A Week of Martyrs

Today's Gospel is the martyrdom story we hear most often during the liturgical year: that of John the Baptist. (Interestingly, today it is paired with the near conclusion of the letter to the Hebrews, with its exhortation about the sanctity of marriage, the very cause for which John was put to death.) Today is also the feast of the martyrs of Nagasaki, 26 Christians crucified in 1597 who were only the first of many martyrs in Japan.

Yesterday's saint was another martyr: Agatha, the all-but-anonymous early Christian virgin martyr
whose name simply means "good." And before her, on the 3rd, we celebrated the feast of St. Blaise. That was also the day the Vatican officially bestowed the title "martyr" on Latin American bishop Oscar Romero. Romero's cause was held up for a l-o-n-g time as a kind of political hot potato. Could you say he was killed "in hatred for the faith" when his death (like so many others) was in the context of a civil war about which which he had become inconveniently outspoken? Not to mention that he was speaking out for "the people," a term long co-opted by socialists and communists. It was Pope Benedict XVI who, just a month before announcing his resignation, removed the last roadblock to Romero's cause.

It may well be (and here in the civilized North of the world we are seeing hints of it already) that we will be called to account for what we believe and teach; that speaking those truths in the public square will be declared criminal hate speech, with consequences of arrest. Death? Not so much. But all over the world, Christians are losing their jobs, flirting with jail time and even risking their lives for simply living uprightly. This is not just in ISIS-dominated parts of Iraq and Syria: One of those places is the very Catholic country of Mexico (remember the Cardinal who was shot to death for speaking out against drug trafficking?).

The recognition of Romero's martyrdom is another acknowledgement that "hatred of the faith" is not limited to "hatred of Christian teachings." Like Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi, martyred in 1993 (by the Mafia), Romero met his death because of the way he was living the faith. This not only opens the way for many more martyrs to be recognized, it makes the possibility of martyrdom a little bit more "real" for the rest of us.

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