Four Practical Ways Catholics Can Embrace Martyrdom Each Day

by Faith & Life, Meaning of Suffering, Saints

When we think of the saints and martyrs, especially the first Christians, we struggle to conceptualize their experiences.  We don’t live in the same era, they seem “more Catholic” than us, and their level of holiness can feel unrelatable and unattainable. The magnitude of their sacrifice and their commitment to the name of Jesus can feel inimitable. 

The early Christians died painful deaths for believing in Christ. Although there are many Christians suffering around the world for their faith, that’s a far cry away from our experience as Christians in the United States. 

In our daily lives, the majority of us aren’t asked to risk death, beheading, stoning, or burning at the stake for our Faith. 

But we are still asked to be watchful and prepared, ready to share what we believe with anyone who sees something a little different about the way we live. 

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” 1 Peter 3:15

Oftentimes, this requires courage. And studying the lives of the martyrs and the saints can give us the community we need to live out our faith in the world. 

Let’s take St. Stephen as an example. 

St. Stephen was killed by the Jews for abandoning his previous way of life and professing Christianity. 

What is interesting about Stephen being stoned to death in Acts 7 is how Luke parallels the deaths of Stephen and Christ. In other words, Stephen’s death appears to recapitulate that of Christ. For example, as Stephen is about to die, he calls out “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59)—very much like Jesus says from the Cross in Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And Stephen—like Jesus—forgives his executioners: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60), just as Jesus famously says from the Cross: 

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

As we study the early Christian martyrs, we see “dying to self” take on a powerful and all encompassing meaning. The early Roman martyrs embody a recapitulation of Christ’s life and death in a concrete way. 

But this is the path for us all: for some, it’s a red martyrdom—like St. Stephen or St. Peter (and which is still occurring to this day). For others, this will entail a white martyrdom, a daily death to ourselves—that Christ may live through us. 

This begins in our baptism; it is consummated in the Holy Eucharist; and it continues in the outpouring of our lives in love to others—whereby Christ’s life is reproduced in and through us.

 This is what Christianity is all about: to love as Christ loves, to the point of giving our lives—in one way or another; as Christ said:

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

How can the witness of current and recent martyrs inspire us to make our lives not about us (our comforts, our projects, our ambitions), but about something greater?

How can their boldness and their unabashed abandonment of themselves for Christ inspire us to learn more about our faith, to understand how it is inextricably connected to the most important relationship we will ever have, and to share that with the people in our lives at every opportunity? 

4 Practical Ways Catholics Can Embrace Martyrdom Each Day

This doesn’t need to be large and grandiose. Everyday martyrdom can look like:

  • Making the sign of the cross at restaurants or in public places (just as you would in your own home.)
  • Sharing about your faith with love when you are asked—even if you feel unqualified, uncomfortable, or don’t know all the answers. 
  • Choosing the needs of your family over your own without needing recognition. 
  • Always placing God as the priority in your life over all things and relying on him instead of outcomes. 

In the communion of Saints, we have a community as we live boldly. These saints and martyrs are praying for us in heaven and interceding to the Father on our behalf—day in and day out. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Hebrews 12:1-2

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