A Journey from Death to Life

Recently, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI released an essay entitled “The Church and the Scandal of Sexual Abuse” on the sexual abuse crisis of the Church. In this letter he laid forth many reasons for which he believes the sexual abuse crisis was able to take root and grow to such an extreme. He cites many reasons including the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the suffering of Catholic moral theology, etc. He also provided some suggestions for what he feels ought to be done to correct this issue.

In this letter, Pope Benedict states that there are “values which must never be abandoned for a greater value and even surpass the preservation of physical life. There is martyrdom.” Indeed, that is what the red shoes that many popes choose to wear symbolize, martyrdom. Pope Benedict’s goal in writing this essay seems to be to give an exhortation to his Catholic brothers and sisters to embrace the scandal. Rather than hide from the scandal and cover it up, he seems to beg his Catholic family to accept the scandal, to let it be the Church’s great martyrdom.

Martyrdom, to many of us, often seems like some distant ideal of sorts. Martyrdom is a straight shot to heaven, so we view it as something that can only be accomplished by a saint. I suppose, in a sense, that is true. Yet, martyrdom is something that happens more frequently than we think. And not all of those who die volunteer to.

Truly, there have been a great deal of martyrs in just the past century. Some, like St. Maximilian Kolbe died martyrs because they chose to sacrifice all of themselves – their lives – out of a love for Christ and His people. Such martyrs are known as martyrs for odium amoris, that is, martyrs for the hatred of love. These people are perhaps killed or die while performing great acts of love. St. Kolbe, of course, was executed when he swapped places with a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz so that that prisoner could remain with his family. Others, like the Trappist monks martyred in Algeria in 1996, died not because they volunteered, but because they served the poor in opposition to a corrupt government.

There are also martyrs who die in odium fidei, meaning in the hatred of the faith. Such people as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) died in odium fidei. And even more recently, the Sri Lankan Catholics who died this past Easter weekend in church bombings. These martyrs died simply because of their Catholic identity.

Suddenly, the thought of martyrdom no longer seems like some distant ideal. Instead, martyrdom becomes reality. Indeed, “there is martyrdom” as Pope Benedict XVI wrote. And no, martyrdom is not meant only for those who already possess saintly characteristics. Martyrdom finds people of faith, they do not have to choose it. The 200 plus Sri Lankan martyrs who died on Easter for simply attending Holy Mass are amazing witnesses to this.

In fact, martyr, coming from the Latin martyres means “witness.” This too shows us the reality of martyrdom. We are each called to be witnesses, to be martyrs. We are each called to be willing to die to ourselves to the point of being nothing other than a witness for Christ. We are called to live for nothing other than the faith and for love. Even if that means that people hate us because of their odium amoris et odium fidei, their hatred of love and hatred of the faith.

We live in a world plagued by sin. The Prince of Darkness sends forth his legion of demons to torment our world. This is a time that is in need of an army of saints to combat the forces of evil. We can no longer view saints as distant figurative heroes. No! Now is the time to recognize our call to holiness, our call to sainthood. Martyrdom is a sure way to heaven, to sainthood. Thus, we must realize that “there is martyrdom” and embrace it. We must become martyrs.

To do this, we need not die physically. Rather, we must simply be willing to die to ourselves. We must be willing to become nothing other than witnesses for Christ. We must exemplify the faith and show love each and every day of our lives. Then shall we be witnesses. Then shall we be martyrs. Then shall we join the Sri Lankan martyrs and all the Church Triumphant to be the army of saints that our world so desperately needs.

Patrick is a freshman mathematics and theology major. He is wishing you a happy Eastertide as he comes down from his Easter candy sugar high. He may be reached at pgouker@nd.edu.