All posts tagged: martyrdom

Skin in the Game

  I took my son and his friend to see Paul, Apostle of Christ in the theater during Holy Week. It seemed an appropriate thing to do. Besides, there is something potentially powerful in seeing a film about the origins of the Christian faith in the same theater where my son has watched the most recent Star Wars films and other things like that. Those stories that he has loved are stories of great heroism, adventure, and matters of life-or-death. Maybe by seeing this film in the same setting, the fact that this story is about all those things and more would be reinforced? I think my son liked it, and we talked about it in the days to follow. I liked the film, too, but I also found myself challenged and inspired. And it was actually several little things that did this to me. On Mentoring First, the mentoring that the film portrayed in the early Christian communities grabbed my attention. In this particular narrative, it began with Paul who mentored Luke, strengthening the …

Active Love Is a Harsh and Fearful Thing

In the second grade, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I replied with what I saw as the two most appealing occupations—I would either become a veterinarian or a saint. While many Catholic parents’ eyes might begin to brim with tears at such a declaration, my knowing mother asked a prescient follow-up question. Do you know that you have to die before being canonized a saint? With the swift and definitive logic of an eight-year old, I promptly concluded that sainthood was not the professional trajectory for me. I set my sights instead on a future concerned with animal health. The subsequent parental encouragement that everyone was called to sainthood over their lifetime, no matter their job, did not sway my decision. If I could not get the credit for being a saint, what was the point? This story makes great Catholic cocktail party fodder. Everyone smiles and chuckles at my former precociousness. I feel great satisfaction in having a good anecdote in my back pocket for just …

Why Do Catholics Venerate the Arms and Tongues and Blood of Saints?

When I was a child, one of my favorite books was My First Book of Saints, which contained some three dozen accounts of holy men and women across continents and centuries who embodied in various ways the love of Jesus Christ. I loved reading the stories of missionaries like St. Angela de Merici and St. Isaac Jogues, but, like many young children, I had a trepidatious fascination with the macabre, and so I was morbidly fascinated in particular with the detailed accounts of the martyrs’ deaths. They read like something out of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. St. Lucy had her eyes gouged out AND THEN SHE WAS BURNED ALIVE! They tried to cut off St. Cecilia’s head AND IT DIDN’T WORK! St. Sebastian was shot with a bunch of arrows AND HE DIDN’T DIE! I can remember relaying these details to my mother, or my friends, or my teachers, reveling in the astonished or even horrified reactions that they generated. As much as I enjoyed reading and sharing the martyrs’ stories, what …

The Exodus and Apocalypse All in One Human Flow

What does a world look like in which there are now 258 million migrants and refugees, representing 3.4% of the global population, or, one in every 300 people? To gain some kind of mental image, let’s begin with the extraordinary new documentary film from Ai Weiwei, Human Flow, filmed in 23 countries and 40 refugee camps. This film is sweeping, immersive, and artful at moments, drawing us in with its use of high-altitude drone cameras looking down at a beautiful cobalt Mediterranean, across which a boat overflowing with orange life preservers gradually pulls into harbor at the island of Lesbos. As the director Ai Weiwei helps the passengers unload, he speaks with a young man from Iraq, a country that now has 4 million displaced people, internally and externally. An Greek aid worker comments to the director that in a single recent week (during the period of the film’s shooting, 2015-2016), some 56,000 refugees arrived in Greece, with another 5,000 drowned en route. The film moves on to Iraq, with another high-altitude shot, this one …

What is the Community of Sant’Egidio?

1. What is Sant’Egidio? What is its charism? I often think that the Sant’Egidio Community is best understood through its founding, precisely because its founding was not really a founding. Nobody decided to create an organization, a rule, a structure. No, in Rome in 1968, at a time of great social ferment, a group of Catholic high school students began to gather together as friends in order to pray and to seek out and befriend the poorest of the poor. They did this regularly, grew in their ranks, and today you have a community of friends numbering tens of thousands and spanning nations and continents. This community has borne remarkable fruit, including friendship with the elderly and advocacy for the poor around the world, opposition to the death penalty, the combatting of AIDS in Africa, the mediation of numerous peace agreements in Africa and Latin America, and numerous other projects and causes. These “works,” though, all grow out of the community’s basic charisms of prayer, communicating the gospel, and friendship with the poor. Friendship comes …

Weeping with Rachel, in Sorrow and Hope

There are some stereotypes that often accompany the college stage of a woman’s life. Some (like loving babies, studying in coffee shops, etc), I embraced. Others I did my absolute best to avoid (and we’ll leave those ones to the imagination). My friends and I all proudly took up an affection for and gravitation toward all infants and young children within a mile radius as our stereotypical banner of choice. In fact, we had an unspoken arrangement that involved immediately informing each other of the presence of any nearby bundle(s) of joy. My girlfriends and I reveled in the wonder that small children have; we discussed how there is nothing on this earth more precious than tiny fingers, toes, and noses; we felt the urge to play peek-a-boo with any and all small children who crossed our paths. And if we saw a little tyke just wobbily learning to walk, it was absolutely the game-over-highlight of our day. Not having children of our own yet meant that we certainly still had a somewhat romanticized view of young children …

Auden on the Feast of St. Stephen

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes— Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic. The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, And the children got ready for school. There are enough Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week— Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, Stayed up so late, attempted—quite unsuccessfully— To love all of our relatives, and in general Grossly overestimated our powers. —W.H. Auden, “For the Time Being” December 26 can be a miserable morning. The fresh-looking print in one’s new books already has the dull glaze of familiarity. If you’re me, your new pants may already have a tear in them. Yesterday weren’t all things supposed to be made new? Didn’t I just try for four weeks to egg on my longing for Christ, dragging it slouching and grumbling out from under my rocky heart? If I did, I have nothing to show for it. I’m …

The Witness of the Martyrs

Laden with highly-charged connotations, “martyr” is one of the most rhetorically and politically loaded words in the English language. Often, for us, “martyr” conjures up images of stubborn ideologues who refuse to be badgered into backing down, or sufferers of avoidable ills in the name of self-righteousness. Often, Catholics imagine specifically early Christian martyrs as put-upon Catacomb Christians sticking to their guns in the face of a government that was determined to beat their convictions out of them. This anachronistic imaging of the early Christian martyrs is influenced by the state-driven religious persecutions of the Reformation. I would like to suggest an alternate imaging of the early martyrs. But first, a quick etymological detour: the word “martyr” did not appear in Latin until it was first used in the first century AD. The Latin word evolved specifically to describe the phenomenon of groups of early Christians, who were, for whatever strange and shocking reason, giving themselves up to death at the hands of the Romans. The word “martyr” is a response to a specific event, …