During this month of June, the Church has been celebrating some of the saints whose witness to the faith led to their martyrdom, such as Saints Peter and Paul, whose feast day is on Tuesday, June 29, and the First Martyrs of Rome, Wednesday, June 30.
With this great focus on those who were prepared to die for their belief in God rather than deny their Creator, some people from across the Diocese reflected on their relationship with God and shared their thoughts on martyrdom in the June edition of ‘The Net’ faith publication.
Like most of us, martyrdom is not something they had ever given much thought to. It is far from the peaceful, pain-free death we hope for. John the Baptist, whose birth we celebrated on June 24, was beheaded, as was Paul, the once great persecutor of Christians, whose conversion led to him becoming one of the greatest evangelisers, while Peter, the first Pope, was crucified…upside down! Saint Justin (June 1), and Saints Marcellinus, a priest, and Peter, an exorcist (June 2), were also beheaded. Other steadfast witnesses to the faith in the Early Church were sawn, stoned, burnt at the stake or thrown to the lions!
Christians have been persecuted down the generations to the present day and, according to the International Society for Human Rights, make up around 80 per cent of those persecuted for their religion today.
Our Catechism teaches that martyrdom is “the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith; it means bearing witness even unto death”. (CCC 2473)
What is that truth? We state it at Mass when we pray the Nicene Creed – “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible”.
How much thought do we give to this belief we profess? Does it guide how we think, act and speak? Are we actually living like Christians, with the fruits of our faith attracting others to this way of life?
How real and present is God in our lives? Our Creator respects our free will…how much respect do we give Him?
The life of a Christian has never been easy. It takes a great strength of will and conviction fuelled by a love so strong that enables us to keep giving our ‘Yes’ to God, to the point of giving our lives if it ever came to that. And to foster that depth of love for God, we are called to walk with Him…to grow closer and closer through talking to Him. We can do this by going to a quiet place to pray, through receiving the Sacraments, by spending time with Him in Eucharistic Adoration, and picking up our bible to discover, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what He has to say to us there. As the Church responds to the call of Pope Francis to set out on a more synodal path, with everyone walking along together, respectfully sharing with and listening to one another and to God through one another, may we have the faith and openness of Peter the Rock and the first disciples, when Jesus said to them: “Come follow me.”
Mary O Donnell is the editor of The Net, Derry, a monthly publication which ‘shares the fruits of the faith in parishes and schools in the Derry Diocese.’