White Martyrs, Take Heart

The word “martyr” means “witness.” The first centuries of the Church were spattered red with the blood of the heroic martyrs, but when peace came to the Church there was still a need for heroic witness. Very soon the concept of “white martyrdom” developed: a martyrdom without blood, but still facing off against violent hatred of the faith. This white martyrdom consisted in a total offering to God, dying to self, the world, and its allurements. 

I read a story about young Catholics in China who belonged to the Legion of Mary. They were forbidden by their government to practice the faith. But that didn’t stop them. They eventually were arrested and their rosaries confiscated. While in jail they continued to pray using their fingers to count the decades. The government swiftly chopped off their fingers.

Hopefully none of us will ever have to endure such a trial for our faith, but many ordinary Catholics do suffer persecution, especially if we are committed to following Jesus for more than an hour on Sunday. Do you know anyone who is suffering a quiet white martyrdom for the faith?

A very close friend of mine recently announced, through heart-wrenching tears, that her husband wanted a divorce and was moving out. After six kids and 19 years of marriage you can bet they had their ups and downs. But none of the downs constituted “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” It turns out the straw was… contraceptives! They had all throughout their marriage practiced Natural Family Planning. But now with age and unpredictable cycles and her husband not wanting any more children, his solution was contraceptives. Her solution was NFP and faith in the wisdom of God. After seeking spiritual direction with several priests, family therapy, and prayer, he moved out.

When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in times of adversity. Cling to Him, forsake Him not; thus will your future be great. Accept what befalls you; in crushing misfortune be patient. For, in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and He will help you. Make straight your ways and hope in Him. You who fear the Lord, wait for His mercy. Turn not away, lest you fall. (Sirach 2:1-7)

Last week I answered the phone and heard a whispering friend agonize, “Every day, I have to contend with snide remarks: ‘This is how your God treats us! If your God existed we wouldn’t be in this situation. You’re wasting your time praying! Go to church yourself.’”

She called me for a sympathetic ear, a friend to share her burden. She confided how she didn’t know how long she could endure the attacks on her faith and her God. Those attacks were coming from her husband, who lost his job over two years ago. After spending down their savings, retirement accounts and everything else in between, to pay the mortgage and keep their son in Catholic school, she continues to practice her faith, choosing to turn to God and prayer – while her rapidly deteriorating husband chooses alcohol and derision.

We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful; as unrecognized and yet acknowledge; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things! (2 Cor 6:8:-10)

I know an older woman with eight grown children. Although she is a tireless and effective evangelizer, she is often shunned and ostracized in her own community. She is a victim of racial prejudice! She is also targeted because she is poor. The snubs and disregard hurt her deeply, but she goes on praying for those who hate her.

“…do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Mt 5:44-45)

A single woman I know, perhaps the holiest and most devout person I ever met, has been under constant and relentless attack by the adversary. After years of patient trying, she finally succeeded in adopting a handicapped girl, who lives in a sterile environment in the hospital. She fell in love with this child while performing her weekly charitable assignments for the Legion of Mary.

My friend has had to endure many biting remarks about her adoptive motherhood from the nursing staff: “At least I was able to give birth to my children, you had to adopt yours.” (This is clearly retribution for her relentless advocacy on behalf of her daughter.)

On the nagging of a well-intentioned acquaintance she yielded to the rare temptation to indulge in a pedicure, and contracted a virulent infection. Now she is forbidden to see her daughter, the one true happiness of her life.

…in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in a holy spirit, in unfeigned love. (2 Cor 6: 4:7)

Another friend is a Jewish convert to Catholicism, whose family abandoned him upon his conversion. He took refuge in his new-found faith. He even turned away from a lucrative business career in order to shoulder the wheel of evangelization. The people in his church-related workplace proved more secular and profane than those on the outside. He struggles with disillusionment as he tries his best to bring Catholicism back to cradle Catholics.

…you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pt 1:6-7)

Another friend who works in the stock market is also a Jewish convert. He is a lector, brings the Eucharist to the sick at hospitals and to the homebound. His fellow employees think it is hilarious to send pornographic images to his computer because of the “shock value” it evokes.

Remember the word I spoke to you. No slave is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (Jn 15:20)

A woman college student, the eldest of seven children, is walking in the way laid out by her holy parents – the way of Truth. She suffers unaccountable maladies, and has been accosted by inexplicable satanic malevolence. Yet she continues on cheerful, faithful and unafraid. She is a hero to the Church and a good example to young people all around her; but a scourge to the nemesis, and a scandal to worldlings at her college.

In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim 3:12)

In today’s society Christians are held in contempt. They are the “spoilers” of deviant lifestyles, polluted entertainment and sinful pastimes. They are the moral compass in the office, in politics and in the world. They are the faithful voices that must be silenced by those who have no faith.

Should we be surprised? Jesus tells us, If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. (Jn 15:18-19)

Take courage! St. Peter exhorts us to cast all our worries upon Jesus because he cares for us. He urges us to be steadfast in faith, knowing that our fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. (cf. 1 Pt 5:10)

My dear friends, take solace in Our Lord’s promise: Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. (Mat 5:11)

I will never forsake you or abandon you. Thus we may say with confidence: “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me? (Heb 13:5)

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