I was meditating on my desire to die a martyr’s death for Jesus, and then asked myself if I was really in earnest, why did I not begin to die to myself, to die to my own will, the inclinations and desires of my lower nature. I wish to die a martyr’s death but am I willing to live a martyr’s life? To live a crucified life “seeking in all things my constant mortification”?
My God, I promise You, kneeling before the image of Your Sacred Heart, that I will do my best to lead a martyr s life by constantly denying my will and doing all that I think will please You, if You in return will grant me the grace of martyrdom.
A life of martyrdom is to be the price of a martyr’s crown.
COMMENT: Martyrdom is no joke. It is the ultimate expression of detachment and love; a willingness to give up life itself for the truth and love of Christ. Martyrdom can seem fine in the abstract, but when faced with the pressing reality of this sacrifice, our human nature easily rebels. This tension between religious ideals and the weakness of human nature is wonderfully portrayed in last year’s movie Of Gods and Men which follows the experience of the seven Trappist monks who were martyred in Algeria in 1996. The movie brilliantly shows the tension within the community between the desire to stand firm against the Islamic extremists who were threatening the monastery and the human desire for self-preservation.
There is some truth in the Flannery O’Connor line “she could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick”. If one is going to be a martyr, it is better that the martyrdom be a quick one. But yet, there are few martyrs whose martyrdoms were quick. St Thomas More had a long time to contemplate his impending death in London Tower; so too did St. Maximilian Kolbe in the Auschwitz starvation bunker. Fr Doyle had much occasion to contemplate his own probable death as he lived in cold, squalid, hungry and dangerous conditions with the soldiers in trenches for 18 months before he was killed.
And this shows us the wisdom of Fr Doyle’s quote today. Unless we toughen ourselves up by small sacrifices each day, we will never be capable of bigger sacrifices if the occasion arises. This principle arises in the secular sphere as well. Anyone familiar with Ireland knows how much the country has suffered economically in recent years, and this economic pain is likely to continue into the future. It is only by learning to deny ourselves now that we will be able to cope with the even more difficult circumstances that are likely to come in the future.
St Agatha, whose feast it is today (although it is not celebrated because it falls on a Sunday), also lived this reality, remaining faithful to Christ despite torture and imprisonment. Tradition tells us that her persecutors mutilated her by cutting off her breasts. It is certain that the story of St Agatha is one of those that inspired the young Willie Doyle to desire martyrdom as a boy.
May St Agatha, Fr Doyle and all the martyrs intercede for us so that we may live our daily martyrdom of fidelity to daily sacrifices so that we may be found ready if something more is asked of us.