I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.
– Philippians 4:13
While we have folded some Christianity into this treatise on the existence of God, the principles and conclusions so far do not specify Christianity as the true religion. Certainly, Judaism and Islam are responsible for a great deal of thought on God, and it is in that ecumenical spirit that I am writing. God lives; we will sort out the details later.
Here you may choose to read “Christ” as a placeholder for God, in this spirit. Or you might embrace the challenge, reflect on the mystery of God incarnate, and see what follows.
Now, clear as a light in darkness, we have the martyrs. When Catholics celebrate their memory at Mass, the priest and deacon wear red, and I sometimes wonder if my brothers and sisters see those garments and feel for their pulse, if they recognize them as soaked in the blood of men and women who faced down blades and flames and did not break.
Children even, tortured and fed to lions, who would not disown the Lord. (Indeed, in our own day they are beheaded).
This is not sane, this betrays human nature as we see it in our neighbors and ourselves. People thinking about their electric bill don’t often worry about losing their lives in the circuses. Perhaps they would die for something (maybe). But think on it: To die for a god? To die for an abstraction, for someone not seen, for someone who (in the case of Christ) died many years ago?
This is not to be confused with “martyrs” who slay others and die in the process. They are advancing their cause in a human way, and they believe they will be rewarded in a human way, even if abundantly. No Christian martyr has died expecting a harem of virgins.
No, the Christian martyrs do not instigate their deaths, and they do not take innocent lives down with them. Rather, they refuse to lie, they refuse to betray, they refuse to do with their bodies what everyone else believes will honor a false god. They love the Lord their God with all their strength, and they give all.
I was in Rome for the beatification of two boys, 9 and 11 years old, who taught Sunday school to their friends in a tribe in Africa. But some other members discovered this, and dragged them out in the middle of the night, and demanded that they renounce their faith and stop teaching.
They would not do this.
See – this may include heart, soul, and mind, but it is fundamentally an act of strength. This strikes to the core of our corporeal nature, to fight or flight, to our inevitable starvation if we are not fed and our death if we are not protected. Our strength is our breath and our life.
And these two boys would not breathe a word against the Lord. They were murdered for it.
But we have a better word. They were martyred for it, which means they made death a footstool toward life. If their faith is true, they cannot know any greater glory than they do now.
And we have a greater strength than anything our bodies can provide.