“Would you be a martyr for the faith?”
Again and again I hear this question – often enough, in the homily for the memorial or feast of a martyr (or group of martyrs, like yesterday).
But martyrdom has really never struck me as all that difficult a thing. Sure, it would be sad to leave behind all those I love, and it'd be absolutely terrifying to effectively volunteer to be killed, but the alternative is committing apostasy in the most cowardly manner. Go big or go home, essentially, and with my disposition, it’s plain that I'd regret going home for the rest of my life. It'd be easy to die for Jesus.
So the focus shifts to white martyrdom, to the everyday things: swallowing your anger at that guy who just cut you off; treating that person who thinks you're an idiot just as kindly as you treat your best friend; doing your best to remain healthy yet accepting without complaint the inevitable decays of age. (I feel like I'd have better examples of this if I were a mother; feel free to chime in the combox, ladies!) I already strive for virtue in my everyday actions; the reminder is helpful, but not earth-shattering.
However, the everyday martyrdoms grow deeper still. The most striking thing, to me, about the story of Isaac Jogues, centers around his return to France after years of mission work in what is now the U.S. He was so deformed from the tortures he'd suffered that his brother Jesuits did not even recognize him! And yet, after a few years back at the monastery, he asked to go back. To return to the people who cut (or bit) off his fingers and marred his face, among so many other tortures! After all they'd done for him, he genuinely loved them, still wanted to bring Christ to them. And he did, until they martyred him.
Now that is a style of martyrdom I ought to work toward: deep, self-giving love for those who have given me only pain. That kind of love is indeed divine.
Iesu cuius corpus percutientibus, et genae vellentibus, dedisti, miserere nobis.
Iesu fortitude Martyrum, miserere nobis.