Philip Kosloski graduated from the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and Catholic Studies and completed his Master of Arts degree in Theology with the Augustine Institute. He is a writer and author of In the Footsteps of a Saint: John Paul II’s Visit to Wisconsin. He blogs at philipkosloski.com and writes to help all Catholics master the art of prayer by conquering the practical obstacles that prevent a fruitful relationship with Christ.
With the recent news of the martyrdom of four religious sisters in Yemen, combined with the martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians only one year ago and the increasing threat of ISIS, the possibility of our own martyrdom is much more real than we may like. For us Americans who live in extreme comfort, the thought of martyrdom is downright horrifying.
I will be honest and say that I am not entirely thrilled with the idea either.
However, we shouldn’t be surprised and think that we are immune from this possibility. Christian men and women have died for the faith ever since St. Stephen was stoned to death and became the first martyr. Wherever there are Christians, there are those who want to put them to death.
St. John Paul II, in preparing for the Great Jubilee year of 2000, created a Commission for the New Martyrs of the Great Jubilee. This particular commission researched and cataloged all those who died for the faith in the 20th century. They discovered that the “20th century has produced double the number of Christian martyrs [than] all the previous 19 centuries put together.”
The question is, will this century rival the 20th century? That is yet to be determined.
Suffice to say martyrdom is a basic fact of the Christian faith and one that we all don’t like to face. But we can’t deny that sometimes it is essential to the spreading of the Gospel. As Tertullian famously wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” St. John Paul II expanded on this concept in his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, where he wrote:
“The Church of the first millennium was born of the blood of the martyrs: ‘Sanguis martyrum – semen christianorum.’ The historical events linked to the figure of Constantine the Great could never have ensured the development of the Church as it occurred during the first millennium if it had not been for the seeds sown by the martyrs and the heritage of sanctity which marked the first Christian generations. At the end of the second millennium, the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs. The persecutions of believers -priests, Religious and laity-has caused a great sowing of martyrdom in different parts of the world.
This witness must not be forgotten. The Church of the first centuries, although facing considerable organizational difficulties, took care to write down in special martyrologies the witness of the martyrs. These martyrologies have been constantly updated through the centuries, and the register of the saints and the blessed bears the names not only of those who have shed their blood for Christ but also of teachers of the faith, missionaries, confessors, bishops, priests, virgins, married couples, widows and children.”
Why Should I Prepare for Martyrdom?
Martyrdom is a gift from God. Only those whom God has given extraordinary grace will become martyrs. We are not all called to “red” martyrdom. However, we should be prepared to be a red martyr every day of our life and it is easier than you think. Simply put, martyrs are born from a deep and abiding love of God.
For example, as a father of my family, I would be willing to do anything for my family; even risk my life if it meant that I could save them. This ability to sacrifice my life is born out of my deep love for them.
In a similar way, we only receive the grace and strength to suffer martyrdom if we have an unquenchable love of God. We won’t die for a list of rules and regulations. We won’t shed our blood for an ancient book. We will die for a Person.
In the end, we don’t know if we will be called to die for the Faith. In the present moment, all that matters is living daily the vocation God has given us and loving Him above all else.
Love prepares us for martyrdom. Let us allow God to fan into our hearts the flame of Divine Love so that we may be prepared to meet Him, whenever He calls.