21st July

Called To Be A Martyr?

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword. They went round clothed in skins of sheep or goats – poor, persecuted, ill-treated. The world was not good enough for them! They wandered like refugees in the deserts and hills, living in caves and holes in the ground. What a record all these have won by their faith! Hebrews 11:37-39

Have you ever wished you could so completely lay down your life for Christ that this would even include being put to death on account of your witness to him? Celtic Christians were inspired by stories of Christians who, in the early era of persecution, had been killed because they refused to denounce Christ. The Celts’ instinct for being all-out led them not only to admire these martyrs, but, since there was no longer physical persecution, to find non-physical ways of becoming martyrs.

They may have read what Jerome wrote to a young woman whose widowed mother had given away all her possessions and entered a convent: ‘Your mother has been crowned because of her long martyrdom. It is not only the shedding of blood which is the mark of a true witness, but the service of a dedicated heart is a daily martyrdom. The first is wreathed with a crown of roses and violets, the second of lilies.’

They also read in The Life of St Martin (who was the first official saint not killed for his faith): ‘He achieved martyrdom without blood. For of what human sorrows did he not, for the hope of eternity, endure the pain – in hunger, in night watchings, in nakedness, in fasting, in the insults of the envious, in the persecutions of the wicked, in care for the sick, in anxiety for those in peril.’
Sulpicius Severus

They called those who had shed blood ‘red martyrs’, and those who gave up home and possessions ‘white martyrs’. The Irish came up with the idea of ‘glas (blue – the colour of death) martyrs’, linked to extended penance, or an extended pilgrimage, going into exile from home comforts for the love of God.

The 20th century has had more red martyrs than any other century. Perhaps the 21st century will have more white and blue martyrs than any previous century? For we can be a martyr by laying aside everything that comes between us and God or by laying down our lives for our neighbour.

Take my life
Let it be laid down