Conquerors and Martyrs
St. Agatha is one of the earlier Roman martyrs, who died around 250 A.D. under the Roman Emperor Decius. St. Paul Miki and his companions died in 1570 under the Emperor of Japan. While the Martyrs of Nagasaki are separated from Agatha by over 6,000 miles and 1300 years, in God's eyes there is little separation or difference. Each saint chose to love Christ and His Church, even to their death. Each one lived under an emperor who was afraid of Christianity. These emperors were afraid of being conquered by this unknown religion and its followers.
It seems in our modern age there is a prevailing fear of being conquered. This is a similar fear as these emperors from the past. Christianity was unknown and perceived as an enemy. Today the fear of being conquered doesn't just mean as a country taken by force, but individuals who are afraid of not being in control, afraid of the unknown. So many people are seeking Something in their life, but they don't know what. They are afraid. They are not willing to give in to Christ, because in the world's eyes that means being conquered.
And even as a Christian, I have to examine if I have given my whole self to Christ. Or are there little parts of me I hold back, afraid of being conquered? Am I willing to love Christ and profess my faith even to death?
I think as modern Catholics we hear the word "martyrdom" and it doesn't stir us to think that blood was shed and lives were extinguished over the Christian Faith, even though it still happens to this present day. Perhaps it is because we aren't huddling in catacombs or having to attend Mass in secret that we feel distanced from these saints. But even Cardinal Francis George recognizes the reality of possible martyrdom in our near future.
Besides the loss of blood, there is also a "white martyrdom" which is a modern everyday reality. This was mentioned by Father John Hardon many times:
[T]here is what the Church calls "white martyrdom". This means living a life of witness to the Catholic faith under constant duress and psychological pressure from a world that rejects Christ's followers even as it rejected the Incarnate Son of God when He came into the world in first century Palestine.
As a parent, I don't believe that I need to shelter my children from martyr saints until they are old enough "to handle it". There are certain graphic depictions that I avoid when they are younger, but I have found that learning about martyrs ignites a fire inside their souls. They want to imitate them. They want to be soldiers of Christ just like these saints were. I prefer reading stories that depict the saint as willing to undergo their martyrdom, but also needing God's grace to persevere. I highly recommend any of Joan Windham's saint stories (unfortunately out of print). She repeatedly illustrates that the saints were human -- strong in their love of Christ, but dying wasn't easy, and they needed God's help. Her story of St. Agatha, for example includes:
Agatha was nearly dead by this time. She was in dreadful pain, but nothing would stop her being a Christian. But now, after a month, she began to pray to God to let her die.
"It has gone on Too Long, dear Lord," she said. "I don't think I can bear it any more at all. Do please let me die now, before the Governor comes back." And God took her to Heaven straight away.
Exposing our children to martyrs who died for Christ can help them deal with their white martyrdom or persecution of the day. We are living in an age where it is harder to be a professed Christian and our children need to learn their Faith and fiercely defend Christ.
And as a parent, I need to be their living example. I need to allow myself to be conquered by Christ completely, and be ready to undergo martyrdom for Christ--with His help, of course.
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