On the Call to Martyrdom and Accepting the Increasing Cost of the Faith

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.


23 Replies to “On the Call to Martyrdom and Accepting the Increasing Cost of the Faith”

  1. Here are the Words to the song I dubbed in the video:

    Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
    In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
    Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
    And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

    By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
    Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
    New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
    They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

    Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
    Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
    Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
    Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.


  2. Thank you, Monsignor, for this reminder. It’s a fact that many don’t want to think about today. We believe it could never happen to us, and we don’t want to suffer even scorn for our faith. Let us pray that God would give us the grace to be martyrs, physically or otherwise, for the faith if needs be.

  3. It is truly sobering to realize how much our world today resembles the Rome of the early martyrs. The baby in the clip is mauled by wild beasts, but what we do to our unborn today is much more gruesome, and the sang froid with which we do it is much more chilling than the creepy amusement with which the Roman spectators look on.

    When I sang this hymn, _Once to Every Man and Nation_, I thought the line “by the light of burning martyrs” was ridiculously over the top; when I read the scene in _Quo Vadis_ that depicts a public gala conducted, quite literally, by the light of burning martyrs, I thought that was a bit of fanciful literary embroidery. I have since learned that the event was well documented by pagan Romans who found it outrageous even by Nero’s standards. And yet, since I first sang that hymn or read that novel, many changes have occurred in our own world that I would have considered outrageously fanciful if they had seriously been predicted 30 years ago.

    I heartily recommend this Polish TV production of Quo Vadis, which is available through Netflix (among other sources). I recommend the novel on which it is based even more highly. Not only does it offer a fascinating depiction of the world in which the early martyrs lived and died, but I think the culture clash there depicted will provide readers with plenty of food for thought.

  4. And before anyone says the Tribulation is upon us, think of what the Church teaches: Before the Tribulation, there comes the time of the Jews. Before the time of the Jews, there comes the time of the Gentiles. And both times are indefinite. So be a white martyr, even if you are not called to be a red martyr.

  5. I recall learning that the 20th century saw the witness of more Christian martyrs than the previous 19 centuries combined. The 21st century doesn’t appear to have begun any less violently than the 20th. If I as so many before us were called to receive the martyrs crown, and if I might be called to the same witness of our Lord, I pray for the courage of an unflinching faith that my last words may be the Nicene Creed. To answer the call to follow Christ authentically and to be able to drink of that chalice belonging to Him who hung upon the Cross for us appears to call us all to be prepared for the possibility of no less a trial for following Jesus through suffering, to death, and in hope of Life Eternal.

    1. Nick, while we leave the judgement of Bhatti’s death to the Church, I personally think that he will be beatified and most likely canonised one day. I think the Pakistani bishops see the heroism of his life and consider his death to be, unofficially, martyrdom – and bishops tend to be a cautious bunch. I think they will seek to open his Cause when the usual five years have elapsed and they will work hard to see it completed as soon as possible. An official recognition of Bhatti’s martyrdom and his beatification will bring great joy and strength to Christians suffering in Pakistan and throughout the Islamic world.

  6. Epistle 184
    My some ideas of “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, reading and comprehension of Msgr. Charles Pope’s homily are very essential.
    In the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope wants to question me about my thinking to Martyrs in general and Vietnamese Martyrs in particular.
    Secondly, now we discuss additionally about the Father’s homily.
    When we read Holy Bible or an article as the homily, everyone likely will understand them on various ways.
    Even when reading a chapter (or a sentence) in New Testament, ten years ago I thought it on an various meaning, now when rereading it, I have various thinking about it.
    For instance, ten years ago when I read “between Lord and money”, I choose money because I thought that if I have much money, then I will donate them for the Catholic Church a large part.
    Now when rereading it, I choose Lord because I think that Lord (God) created all things, therefore, if I choose Lord, He will give me all things including a large sum of money.
    I read many stories of Martyrs and I think that those stories are true stories, especially in early periods of the Church.
    Today, sometimes I hear and see on TV in somewhere having happened persecutions to Catholics, and I also think that such the persecutions are true stories.
    But, after all, I think that stories of Martyrs want to say to us that we ought to keep firmly our faiths when we follow Lord, when we are disciples of Lord.
    Martyr is someone who is killed or made to suffer greatly because of their religious faith, and he or she honoured by the Church because his or her life was a perfect example of the way Christians should live.
    In my case, if I am persecuted or killed by Vietnamese Communist Government, then I will be beatified as Saint by the Roman Catholic Church./.

    1. Thank you Nguyen for reminding me of the varied and (dare I say?) infinite qualities of Holy Scripture. My favourite example of an infinite statement is John 2:5 where Mary says “Do whatever He tells you.”

  7. Thank you, Monsignor, for this encouragement to stand firm in our faith most especially when it costs us something.

  8. I’m afraid that sometimes Christians do draw hatred for completely justified reasons. The Ku Klux Klan is infamous for lynching people while speaking of the “light of Christ”. Franco’s regime silenced everyone and freely shot opponents. While I do accept that the Nazi regime ultimately turned on churches that went against it, it slapped “Gott mit uns” on belt buckles and is propaganda spoke constantly of protecting religion and morality. Anti-liberal Catholics in France joined the military in the smearing of Alfred Dreyfus and Jews in general. Certain people in Uganda have tried to pass an absolutely draconian law. Father Coughlin openly attacked Jews and only promoted fascist government. All that is merely the tip of the iceberg. I’m afraid that the Church has MUCH to deal with in order to provide a credible witness.

    1. 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.

  9. Thank you so much, Monsignor. Never let your message be extinguished. Proclaim it from the rooftops. Do not tire in your work, for there are so few like you.

  10. from Bill Foley

    Wonderful article, Monsignor.

    I would recommend two books for your readers: (1) Victories of the Martyrs by St. Alphonsus and (2) Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century by (I cannot remember the author’s name). The one by St. Alphonsus is probably only available through used book sources, and I do not know if the other one is still in print. If not, then the source would be used book dealers.

  11. Christians in the western world had it too good for too long, and we have grown soft indeed.

    We are afraid to ‘upset the feelings’ or to go against the majority, while the martyrs past and present, are ready to die horrible deaths for Christ.

    We really should learn from them!

  12. from Bill Foley

    The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century was written by Robert Royal.

  13. from Bill Foley

    A sample passage from The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century:

    page 31 . . . the execution of Father Luis Batiz Sainz and three laymen (David Roldan, Salvador Lara, and Manuel Morales) on August 15, 1926, at Chalchihuites in the state of Zacatecas.
    . . . If they accepted the Calles legislation against the Church, they could go free. None of them accepted the offer. Father Batiz tried to save Morales, who had children. But Morales said: “I am dying for God, and He will take care of my children.” All four were shot and killed near Puerto Santa Teresa.

  14. Thank you. Please know that I pray for all priests, clergy and religious, when I say the rosary Tuesday and Thursday mornings, as well as other times. I will include you by name going forward.

  15. Thank you for this article. I will remember it.

    The incredible sufferings of the martyrs leaves me in awe, and, I will freely state, glad to live in a time and place where people are not generally tortured for their faith. I cannot imagine myself having their strength and courage.

    I will confirm that this society is becoming more hostile to Christianity. In my workplace, a cross or crucifix in the commonly used areas would never be tolerated because it would be seen as offensive to “those with other life views.” Yet for 5 or 6 years now, the first thing one sees in our small lobby is a brass image of Shiva, about 15 inches high and wide, complete with multiple arms and standing on a dead dwarf. The management received it as a gift from a supplier in India, and it remains permanently on display because we are corporately required to “embrace diversity.”

    I have a small olive-wood carving of the Ten Commandments in my office. I keep it where I can see it, but anyone else would have to either be sitting in my chair or standing behind it to see what it was, much less read the words. I have received some disapproval over this unseemly display even from co-workers professing to be Christians. To date, it remains.

  16. The Neros of this world still stride the corridors of power in many nations. Christians, and all people of good will, need to fight the Neroitic (new word?!) powers not only through prayer but also political action.
    Thank you Msgr. Pope for this post.

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