The other day, I was rummaging through the clothes bins, looking unsuccessfully for a winter coat in size 18 months, when I overheard my four older children playing downstairs. It wasn’t hard to overhear, since they were talking, and sometimes shouting, quite loudly, but I paused to listen because of the game they had chosen to play. They were playing “Martyrs.” My four-year-old son was taking each of his three older sisters in turn, telling them to renounce their faith or be killed, and the girls each bravely refused and then pretended to die.
Some aspects of the game were comical; for instance, when my son offered my oldest daughter a choice of how she was to die: “Would you rather have a car run over you or have a car run over your tummy?” Not only have I never heard of an executioner offer a choice, but I have never heard of that particular form of martyrdom; and I had to agree with my daughter when she said blithely, “It doesn’t matter; they’re both really the same thing!” The second daughter was, in a more traditional manner, beheaded. I don’t know how the other one pretended to die, and I’m not sure if my son ended the game by having the executioner repent and convert, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
But, beyond amusing me, the details of the game don’t really matter. What matters is they are practicing now, through a game, a situation that they may confront in real life when they grow up.I think people sometimes don’t appreciate the importance of games and role-playing in the development of children. I believe these activities are crucial. Playing out different careers and life choices is not just fun; it helps the children see what types of roles they enjoy and find satisfying; it helps the children realize, in a safe context, what are the consequences to certain actions and choices, including bad choices. I suspect the benefits go even further. Children have a real need to enact different roles, and that need must be implanted in them by God to assist them in the development of their imaginations, their decision-making skills, and their ideas of what they want to do with their lives.
How can playing martyrdom now help them when they grow up? Surely the United States government won’t run cars over Christians who refuse to renounce their faith? Perhaps not. I can’t tell the future. But I do know what is going on now. People may not be dying for their faith in this country, but they are certainly suffering for it. Think of the photographer who was sued successfully for refusing to photograph a same-sex “wedding” service. Think of pharmacists who are being fined for refusing to carry emergency contraception. Think of the Catholic adoption agency in Massachusetts that had to stop their services because they would not place children in the homes of same-sex parents. In the not-so-distant future, think of doctors and nurses who could be fired — or prosecuted — for refusing to cooperate with abortions, sterilizations and assisted suicides.
The devil is prince of this world. Being a Christian has always meant standing out and being different. Sometimes it means not laughing at bad jokes told at a meeting at work; sometimes it means being the only woman who dresses modestly at a party; sometimes it means standing up for an unpopular employee whom everyone else is criticizing uncharitably. It means different things in different situations. However, in the United States today, it means a lot more because it’s not just our culture that is pressuring us to conform to the world; now it’s the government. And the government has even more power.
In the past, we might have lost business from a client who disapproved of our Christian ethics; or maybe an anti-Catholic employer might have passed us over for a promotion; or the mothers in our neighborhood might have snubbed us because of our unfashionably large families; but now, the government itself will punish us and persecute us for our beliefs — with court fees, fines, and potentially even jail time. Pro-life activists have been dealing with this scenario for years, but slowly more and more people who are not activists — who have never taken part in politics but have lived quiet lives of faith — may find themselves in legal situations they never expected.
Now the government is attacking adoption agencies, wedding photographers and caterers, and medical personnel; who knows who will be under attack for their faith tomorrow? In other countries, priests have been jailed for “hate speech” when proclaiming the Church’s teaching on homosexuality — which, by the way, is not a hateful teaching, but a truly loving teaching, since only by recognizing a homosexual tendency as a disorder can we bring true peace and joy to people afflicted with these tendencies by actually curing them. Already parents are losing the right to protect their children from homosexual propaganda in public schools here in the U.S. Eventually, it may be possible that anyone in the United States might be prosecuted for simply repeating Church teaching on homosexuality — in the classroom, in print, perhaps even on-line.
I’m not trying to scare my readers, but to alert them to reality. We live in a time of persecution. True, not all Christians are currently being persecuted for their faith. And no one I know has died for their faith in this country. But even if we don’t have to die for our faith, are we ready to suffer for our faith? To go to court? To pay huge legal fines? To face jail time?
I hope and pray that whatever the world is like by the time my children grow up, their training in the faith — as reflected by their games — will help them be ready to stand up and be different, to do what is right no matter what the consequences, and to be willing to suffer for the faith, even unto death, if need be. I pray that I will be ready to do the same, as well.
Let us take the time to read the lives of the martyrs a little more seriously. Let’s meditate a little longer on the swiftness of this life and the eternity of the life to come. Let’s pray for the grace we received at our Confirmation to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ and a witness to His truth.