Learning from Martyrs

On March 7, the Catholic (‘universal”) Church celebrates two saints and martyrs: Pertpetua and Felicitas.

Perpetua & Felicitas were martyred on March 7, 203. Both were catechumens 1 Those who are being taught the principles of Christianity. arrested in Africa under the Roman rule of Emperor Septimius Severus, who struck out at new Christian converts.

He martyred the two of them at the arena at Carthage, together with three other catechumens – Revocatus, Saturus and Saturninus.

Whenever we celebrate the feast day of a martyr or martyrs, we would do well to ask ourselves, “Am I willing to stand up for the faith of Christ crucified, even unto death?”

Our Lord put it plainly, and Perpetua & Felicitas lived it powerfully by their life: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

The other day, I posted a response regarding a pic I saw on Facebook. Here’s the pic:

Christians in the west often hear the slogan presented in this pic: “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life.” However, it is never pictured with a group of early Christians about to be ripped apart and devoured by lions. While both the sentiment and the picture are true, putting them together creates dissonance. It’s not exactly the most marketable campaign for getting the people of today – who prefer comfort and compromise over calamity and conviction – to join the Church.

Yes, God does love you as demonstrated in the Cross of Jesus Christ, and he does have a wonderful plan for your life – more wonderful than you can possibly imagine. Nonetheless, as Christians in China or the Middle East (or even Canada) can tell you, the wonderful life does not preclude pain and suffering.

So, what was my response to the Facebook post?

“Know Jesus, know suffering. No Jesus, no suffering.”

By that I do not mean that those who do not follow Jesus will not suffer. At the time of this writing, Uighur Muslims are facing devastating persecution in Communist China. What I do mean is that the one who does follow Jesus will experience the suffering that is part and parcel with following him. And, if I may be blunt, what it means, in Western culture, is that there is no such thing as “name it and claim it” theology, the prosperity gospel, or “just believe in Jesus and your life will be one happy moment after another” sentiments. Such beliefs are false. And, demonic.

No, the life Jesus calls us to is total and absolute surrender to him.

Jesus is Lord; we are not.

In my North American context, suffering for Jesus may be enduring the insults that will come for maintaining Christian morality – whether that be sexual or financial. What’s that you say? Simple. The Jesus who calls me to his original creation intent of monogamous heterosexuality, is the same Jesus who calls me to give that extra 20 bucks in my pocket to a family on the street corner asking for enough money to buy their daily bread.

Of course, by “simple,” I mean that it is merely a choice I have to make. But, in that choice there very well may be a world of hurt. But, then again, the crucifixion doesn’t feel good. And that’s what Jesus calls us to – no matter where we live in the world.

But, you say, “Jesus died on the cross so we wouldn’t have to.” Fair enough. Jesus died to put an end to sin and death – the very things we are susceptible to. But, while Jesus died for our sins, he calls us to die to our sins. We are to put in practice in our own lives what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.

We may or may not have to literally die for our faith in Christ like Perpetua and Felicitas , but dying to ourselves – our egos – with all of our wants and desires is our calling from Christ himself. Consider it a mini-martyrdom, a personal martyrdom in which we decrease in our lives and Christ increases (John 3:30). Then, we can say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

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