A martyr is one who gives his life for Christ and his Church.
In every age the Church has brought forth many martyrs - men, women, and children - who surrendered their lives rather than deny the Master.
These Christians chose to accept being thrown to the lions, crucified, beheaded, burned, frozen, starved, drowned, shot, hanged, and tortured to death in a multitude of ways. Especially in our own day there are many martyrs and Pope John Paul II spoke of the last century as being the 'century of martyrs'.
The whole world admires a martyr.
Martyrdom is the ultimate gift of self. [Remember how we said last week that human sacrifices are the ultimate sign of our refusal to give self - so we sacrifice someone else?]
Martyrdom is the ultimate proof of sincerity - a kind of 'certificate of authenticity'. It is the ultimate testimony to the belief that there is a higher good than our own human life; that our own human life does not have a value higher than human integrity and, above all, the love and the will of God.
Martyrdom is the ultimate test of faith and, fortunately, we are not all called to make it. My favourite understanding of martyrdom is that it is really heroic submission to the truth.
However, heroic submission to the truth which ends in death does not usually begin there. A martyr is usually one who for many years has been actively and courageously living the truth day by day. As the highest manifestation of faith martyrdom has to be 'trained' for.
The word martyr means witness - one who testifies by his death to a value or a truth which is greater than his life. We need to remember that the driving force for martyrdom is always love - red-hot love! A martyr is one who can be said to be burning with love for Jesus Christ and his Church.
Jesus is the greatest martyr, the greatest witness. He lived the truth from the beginning of his life and ended by giving his life for it, the truth his Father sent him to bring to the world.
The moment of decision came for Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It was night. He had suffered his dreadful agony and now stood with his Apostles who had fallen asleep. Judas and the cohort armed with swords and clubs arrived and Judas approached and kissed him. Jesus stood his ground. Notice that? Jesus stood his ground. He didn't run, he didn't hide. He knew his moment had come - the moment of truth.
Judas stepped back and Jesus said: Who are you looking for?
Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus said I AM - the great I AM which God spoke to Moses when he asked God what his name was.
Jesus didn't say, 'Oh, he went that way. If you hurry you might catch him.' No!
Jesus said 'Yes, I am he. I am the one you are looking for. Let these others go.'
The great moment of truth. Each one of us, without exception, has such moments of truth.
- Are you a Catholic?
- Do you believe in contraception?
- Do you believe in abortion?
- Do you believe it's ok to live the gay lifestyle?
- Do you believe women priests should be ordained?
A Mormon friend of mine once asked a Catholic: Do you believe in women priests? and when the Catholic replied: Yes, my friend said: Then you're not much of a Catholic because I happen to know the Catholic Church teaches that women cannot be priests.
You see? The non-Catholics know! They know when a Catholic is witnessing to his faith - and they know when a Catholic is betraying his faith.
There, in the quiet of the garden, in the dark, Jesus was asked who he was. It was a moment of choice.
Jesus made his choice - I am He - a choice filled with the consequences with which we are all familiar.
To finish off, let's look at what Jesus says to those of us who find that moment of truth is suddenly upon us.
- Your answer will one day become public.
- Do not be afraid of the here-and-now consequences.
- Be afraid for the future consequences.