The Strength Of The Martyrs
Today we reflect on Christian hope as strength of the martyrs. When, in the Gospel, Jesus sends His disciples on mission, He does not deceive them with mirages of easy success; on the contrary, He warns them clearly that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God entails always opposition. And he even uses an extreme expression: “You will be hated — hated — by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22). Christians love, but they are not always loved. Jesus puts Himself immediately before this reality: in a more or less strong measure, the confession of faith happens in an atmosphere of hostility.
Christians, therefore, are “counter current” men and women. It is normal, because the world is marked by sin, which manifests itself in various forms of egoism and injustice. One who follows Christ walks in the opposite direction. Not out of a controversial spirit, but out of fidelity to the logic of the Kingdom of God, which is the logic of hope, and is translated in a style of life based on Jesus’ indications.
The first indication is poverty. When Jesus sends His own on mission, it seems He puts more care in “stripping” them than in “clothing” them! In fact, a Christian who is not humble and poor, detached from riches and power and above all detached from himself, is not like Jesus. A Christian goes on his way in this world with the essential for the way, but with his heart full of love. The true defeat for him or for her is to fall into the temptation of a vendetta or of violence, responding to evil with evil. Jesus says to us: “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16) – hence, without claws, without weapons. Rather, a Christian must be prudent, sometimes even sly: these are virtues accepted by the evangelical logic, but violence never. Evil methods cannot be shared [used] to defeat evil.
The Gospel is the sole strength of a Christian. In times of difficulty, we must believe that Jesus is before us, and does not cease to accompany His disciples. Persecution is not a contradiction of the Gospel, but part of it: if they persecuted our Master, how can we hope that we will be spared the fight? However, in the midst of the whirlwind a Christina must not lose hope, thinking that he has been abandoned. Jesus reassures His own saying: “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30). As if to say that none of man’s sufferings, not even the most minute and hidden, are invisible to God’s eyes. God sees, and He certainly protects, and He will offer His rescue. There is in fact in our midst Someone who is stronger than evil, stronger than the mafias, than dark conspiracies, than one who profits on the skin of the desperate, than one who crushes others with arrogance . . . Someone who always listens to the voice of Abel’s blood, which cries from the earth.
Therefore, Christians must always be found on the “other side” of the world, that chosen by God: not persecutors but persecuted; not arrogant but meek; not vendors of smoke but submitted to truth; not impostors but honest.
This fidelity to Jesus’ style – style of hope – to death, would be called by the first Christians with a most beautiful name: martyrdom,: which means “witness.” There were many other possibilities offered by the vocabulary: it could be called heroism, abnegation, self-sacrifice. And instead, the Christians of the first hour called it with a name that has the perfume of discipleship. Martyrs do not live for themselves, they do not fight to affirm their own ideas, and they accept having to die only out of fidelity to the Gospel. Martyrdom is not even the supreme ideal of the Christian life because above it is charity, namely love of God and of neighbor. The Apostle Paul says it very well in the hymn of charity, understood as love of God and love of neighbor. The Apostle Paul says it very well in the hymn of charity: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Repugnant to Christians is the idea that suicide attackers can be called “martyrs”: there is nothing in their end that comes close to the attitude of children of God.
Sometimes, reading the histories of the many martyrs of yesterday and of today – that are more numerous than the martyrs of the early times –, we remain astonished in face of the fortitude with which they faced their trial. This fortitude is sign of the great hope that animated them: the certain hope that nothing and no one could separate them from the love of God given to us in Jesus Christ (Cf. Romans 8:38-39).
May God give us always the strength to be His witnesses. May He give us the strength to live Christian hope especially in the hidden martyrdom of doing well and with love our duties of every day.
Pope Francis Wednesday Audience June 28, 2017