Today is the feast of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, one of the great Capuchin saints. He was martyred in 1622, which was the founding year of the Propaganda Fide (now the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples) and thus became its proto-martyr.
Since I was blessed to have my turn to preach at the community Mass today, I was reflecting a little on martyrdom. It can seem like something far away, from another time or place. But this sense is false. I think of old Fr. Zygmund, who made such an impression on me with his personal knowledge of those Capuchins now numbered among the 108 Martyrs of World War II. Of course I also think of the current conflicts between the faith and our leaders here in the United States. Perhaps martyrdom isn't far behind. More and more one hears the sobering quote from Cardinal George: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square."
Anyone who wants to live a devout life needs to accept the possibility of martyrdom. It might be the vocation which God wills for us in the end. The thing is, however, that we might not know this until the last days--or even hours--of our earthly lives. We must be prepared. This is part of the reason we try to practice charity and penance now, so that we might be ready to accept the vocation to martyrdom when it comes.
Around the time St. Fidelis was giving his final sermon, supporters recommended to him that he run away. They knew he was in danger. No doubt these were good and devout people, and their recommendation was the fruit of a 'pastoral' and 'balanced' discernment. It was his prior life of charity, penance, and mortification that enabled Fidelis to overcome the prudence of the flesh and the 'pastoral sense' of this world at that moment, and to suffer the fullness of his own configuration to Christ crucified which constitutes him as our heavenly patron in the propagation of the faith.
By lives of prayer, charity, and penance, may we too make ourselves willing and available for the coming martyrdom, if it be God's will for us in the end.
St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, proto-martyr of the Propaganda Fide, pray for us.