October 19, 2009

Martyrdom and Desire

Each year when today's feast of the martyrs of North America rolls around, the selection from the diaries of St. Jean de Brébeuf in the Office of Readings hits me pretty hard. It begins so starkly:

For two days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments the martyrs have suffered. Jesus, my Lord and Savior, what can I give you in return for all the favors you have first conferred on me?


Am I willing to own even the smallest part of such a desire? If I accept with patience the tiniest sufferings of want, inconvenience, misunderstanding, and rejection for the sake of Christ, this is only the most elementary piety. To put up with it is just the beginning. The saints longed for such martyrdom. Have I even made a beginning of learning to rejoice in opportunities to deny myself for love of the Cross? I pray for the willingness.

It is said of St. Jean that his composure and peace under torture was so great that those who killed him later ate his heart in hope of gaining his courage.

6 comments:

ben in denver said...

I have moments is January and February when I'm full of longing for Lent. Sometimes, in the dry and sunny days of February, I just can't wait to take on some great suffering for God.

These feelings usually evaporate at about 4:00 in the afternoon on Ash Wednesday, about halfway through the small meal eaten that day, when I realize just how much I'm going to want seconds.

Brother Charles said...

You remind me, Ben, of the fundamental flaw in my entire practice of Christianity: I am always in danger of being in love with the idea of holiness rather than with the holy and living God.

Rachel Gray said...

"I am always in danger of being in love with the idea of holiness rather than with the holy and living God."

Good point. It seems there are subtle temptations at every stage of the spiritual journey.

I'm always impressed by the martyrs who longed for martyrdom too. The reading for St. Ignatius of Antioch is the same sort of thing.

Qualis Rex said...

Ben, unfortunately I do not share your "lenten longing". I always tend to overdo the fasting (Benedictine style), let my appearance go (not intentionally, I promise) and get way too moody and introspective. None of this is on purpose, and it does make Easter that much more ecstatic (i.e. eating meat and good food for the first time in 40 days), but I'm not convinced if its really all that healthy for me, spiritually or otherwise.

Father Charles - great post. I think as Christians we can all long for martyrdom on some level (i.e. the ability and strength to give God the gift of our ultimate love and sacrifice for Him). But at the same time realise that even the best of the best (i.e. St Francis d'Assisi) were not called to martyrdom by God, no matter how much they longed for it.

As for me, I pray that if I were called, I would have the courage and ability to accept it. But to be honest, there are far greater day-to-day spiritual challenges that I fail at miserably.

Lee Gilbert said...

Every now and then I think about this- To be in Heaven for all eternity looking on the face of the Lord, loving Him because He died for me, and He loving me because I died for him. Forever.

And then there is a sermon I heard on this a few weeks ago, that since we are all going to die anyway, why die uselessly? Why not make it count?

Neither do I own the least part of the desire of St. Jean de Brebeuf, yet neither did he most likely until he prayed for it. That's always possible, as one might pray for a vocation. It's always possible to pray for the grace of martyrdom, or failing that to pray for the desire for martyrdom, or failing that to pray for the desire to pray and the courage to pray for the grace of martyrdom.

As in everything else, I imagine one begins with baby steps...

Brother Charles said...

Encouraging reflection, Lee. Good to meet you.