It is all too often that we see or hear about something that disparages Christianity or belief in God in some way. And sadly there are times when the derision is directed at us personally because of our adherence to the faith. Indeed, it is difficult when it is personal, but let us remember that detractors are as loved by God as those who are faithful. This means that while we are called to stand up for our faith, we must do so with love and respect, even in the face of disrespect, just as Jesus did. Certainly seeing people reject a merciful and compassionate God ought to move us to sadness, but as Jesus taught, we are not to be rude in return; rather, we are to respond peacefully as the situation warrants. What we do should be visibly identifiable as Christian and we should speak respectfully, but without watering down our beliefs. That said, I will not sugarcoat this: even if – (perhaps especially if) – we act in love and humility, it will cost us. Indicating the cost in discipleship Jesus said, “No servant is greater than their master,” (John 15:20). This means we are to do as He did, ‘washing the feet’ of all our neighbors (including our enemies) with actions of love, mercy, forgiveness, and welcome no matter what the response of the world may be.
Some of the most remarkable figures in the history of Christianity are the martyrs, the ones who chose the ultimate cost of discipleship. While they died for the faith, it is only one part of their response to His call. In other words, they did not set out to be martyrs, but chose it when they were put in a position in which they saw it as the only way to remain faithful to Jesus. While we might not be martyred through blood as they were, all disciples are called to another type of martyrdom* which comes as a result of attacks upon our practices and beliefs. If we desire to be disciples and claim to be Christian, we can be sure that we will be counted among these. An example is found in the lives of four holy women, Saints Barbara, Margaret of Antioch, Dorothea (Dorothy), and Catherine of Alexandria, all martyrs of the 3rd and 4th centuries. Not much is known about any of them, except for a common theme: they were virgins, and the purity with which they lived in some way contributed to their martyrdom. All of them died because they refused to sacrifice to the gods, which meant renouncing their belief in Jesus Christ and their adherence to Christianity, and also, each of them refused to marry a pagan man. What we know of these women reveals that purity was not just an issue of the body, but an interior virtue, a purity of intention which was expressed through their virginity. In this, they challenge us to look at our own purity of intention and whether we are willing to be made fun of, shunned, betrayed, or to fight temptations away from our faith because of our adherence to the gospel and love for Jesus. As disciples of Jesus we must expect challenges because we go to Church every Sunday, do works of mercy, do not hide or apologize for having faith,** and have moral values that we will not compromise just to ‘fit in.’ We must be willing to go against the culture which falsely professes that everything is okay and nothing is sinful. If we do so, we will sustain some scrapes and bruises on our hearts, but we will be living as true disciples.
The most painful assaults are those that come from our family members (or even friends) who do not hold the same beliefs and deride us for our dedication. It is true that the worst attack always comes from within: Jesus was betrayed by one of His inner circle, that is, one of His chosen apostles. Even though He knew in advance, it was still exceedingly painful for Him, and therefore He understands how we feel when we experience it. When we do, however, we are to count ourselves as blessed. Jesus said: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.” (Matthew 5:11) If we desire to live our faith with conviction, we must prepare to be challenged for doing so. But we can take comfort in knowing that those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those (perhaps like us) who have been ridiculed for having faith, are blessed and are promised that “the reward will be great in Heaven.” We should rejoice and be glad because of this. (Matthew 5:12)
It is important that we build each other up, supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ when challenges are directed at our faith. We should never lose sight of the gospel message of Jesus, and when it gets rough, we can count on the Holy Spirit being present with the strength of grace to help us remain faithful. Jesus said: “Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say…. it will be… the Spirit of the Father who will be speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19ff) With this promise we can always trust in Him that indeed we are not alone, and in fact, we are truly blessed. In trusting Jesus, we await the reward of being with Him forever in Heaven.
May we rejoice in the witness of the martyrs, taking courage for our own efforts to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ! May we give glory to God by our steadfast love and commitment to Him! And may we continue to build up the Kingdom by witnessing to love through our word and deed! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* Martyrdom that results in death is referred to as red martyrdom, or bloody martyrdom. Martyrdom such as I described in which we suffer interiorly rather than physically is referred to as white martyrdom, or bloodless martyrdom.
** I am referring to an emotional response: ‘Apologizing for having faith’ is when we do not assert our beliefs when we can or should, or that we underplay it, or even compromise it by watering it down, usually in conversation and sometimes even in what we do or fail to do. In effect, our words and actions portray that we are embarrassed by the faith rather than that we are dedicated to it. Therefore, it is as if we are asking another to forgive us for believing in a way contrary to them so as not to ‘make waves’ or be seen as ‘not fitting in.’ Christianity has always been counter-cultural. (To be clear: theologically when you hear ‘apologizing for the faith’ it is referring to the use of apologetics to defend the faith, which is something we should do!)
Note: If you desire more on the women mentioned who are referred to collectively as the Four Capital Virgins you can go to:
St. Dorothy, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=221
St. Catherine of Alexandria, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=341
St. Barbara, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=166
St. Margaret of Antioch, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=199
1. My photo; the island of Ortigia, Siracusa, in Sicily, Italy. This shows St. Paul’s Catholic Church on the right with the dome, partially occluded by another building, across the street from Roman ruins of a temple. (It is said St. Paul preached on the spot of where the church stands today.) The contrast between pagan belief and Christianity is obvious here.
2. Panel Painting; The Four Capital Virgins (Heilige Jungfrauen), by Ulrich Mair (1480-90). It is in the “Middle Ages Collection” at the Alpinmuseum, Kempten H1 in Germany. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alpinmuseum_Kempten_Hl_Jungfrauen_1485.jpg
(Printed with permission: licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)
3. Oil Painting; Approaching Storm, Dog Point, 1914 by Tom Thompson.
4. Image; The Holy Spirit The Lord the Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html
5. My photo; roadside waterfall near Flam, Norway.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart