In recent days, the Church celebrated the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the early martyrs of Rome. All of these died for the faith and show forth the cost of true discipleship: hatred by the world. Jesus had said,
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. (Jn 15:18:23)
We ought to study the martyrs of the early Church carefully, for their times are not unlike our own: polytheistic, proud, anti-Christian, sexually confused, with rampant infanticide, frequent wars, incivility and cruelty, and a general breakdown of family loyalties. Rome was in decline, especially in the West and the Christians, who looked higher and strove to live differently, had much to suffer in frequent, episodic outbreaks of martyrdom.
Our current climate in the West does not accept public executions or enjoy public massacres. However, things are becoming more difficult for true disciples of the Lord in other ways. And as the years tick by, it would seem things are going to get worse, not better. Whether it is simple ridicule of Jesus and the truths of our faith, or outright hostility and the erosion of our religious liberty, we will, it would seem, experience increasing hatred from the world. But if so, we are in good company. Jesus and all the martyrs bid us to join them.
And if no persecutions befall us in this present evil age (cf Gal 2:1) then we ought to question how true our discipleship be. For the contrasts are becoming too strong for us not to experience persecution, if we are faithful. Jesus warns, Woe to you if all men speak well of you (Lk 6:26). He also said, If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels (Mk 8:38).
Now is not the time to be ashamed to be a Christian! The world will try to shame us by calling us intolerant, bigoted, homophobic, judgmental, narrow minded etc. But do not be ashamed of Jesus and his teachings! Now is the time to testify to a sinful and adulterous generation.
And do not let them shame you about the sins of the Church, it is a diversion. Where there are human beings there is sin. But. keep the focus on Jesus, who is sinless. As a member of the Church, you are speaking for Him.
Many people today think little of the faith that has been handed on to them. Only 27% of Catholics even go to Mass. Many too, consider any suffering due to the faith intolerable. So, when reminded of basic moral norms against things like fornication, contraception, assisted suicide, or requirements such as weekly Mass attendance, frequent confession, occasional fasting etc, many consider such things too demanding or unreasonable. But all of us should consider how precious is the faith handed on to us.
Many however, have died for the faith because they would not compromise with the demands of the world or deny Christ. Many too were imprisoned and suffered loss of jobs and property because they witnessed to Christ. Others were rejected by family and friends.
It is remarkable to consider thatthe martyrs even to this day (in places like Egypt and Sudan) are willing to suffer death, but many other Christians today are not even willing to risk some one raising an eyebrow at them or any unpopularity.
Pray for the courage of the martyrs! We’re going to need more courage as the days go on. And never forget the cost of the faith handed on to us.
A word on the Early Martyrs of Rome and then a video tribute to them: Many martyrs suffered death under Emperor Nero. Owing to their executions during the reign of Emperor Nero, they are called the Neronian Martyrs, and they are also termed the Protomartyrs of Rome, being honored by the site in Vatican City called the Piazza of the Protomartyrs. These early Christians were disciples of the Apostles, and they endured hideous tortures and ghastly deaths following the burning of Rome in the infamous fire of 62 AD. Their dignity in suffering, and their fervor to the end, did not provide Nero or the Romans with the public diversion desired. Instead, the faith was firmly planted in the Eternal City. The Blood of Martyrs is the Seed of the Church.
This video depicts the suffering of the First Martyrs of Rome. Careful! It is a graphic video which quite accurately depicts death by lions and the cruel and sadistic glee of the crowds who found it entertaining to see other humans torn apart and eaten. This clip is from the 2002 Movie “Quo Vadis” a Polish Production available at Amazon I added some music over the top that is a dramtic hymn: Once to Every Man and Nation. I listed the Words in the comments section.