Wednesday, August 29, 2007


A little discourse on martyrdom in general, in honor of John the Baptist's beheading.

I remember back in my grad school days studying the cult of the martyrs and wondering "what gives?" Why is there this fascination by the early Christians with the idea... wait no.... the experience of giving themselves away to God by dying for Him?

The most egregious example I read about at the time was Ignatius of Antioch. I really liked the guy----- after all, one of dissertation study questions was dedicated to him. But, come on now, he was more than a little "over the top" about dying for the Faith.

One of his most famous sayings is this:

"I am the wheat of God,
ground fine by the lions' teeth
to become the pure bread of Christ"

Alright, I admit it. I was dumb, martyr-dumb. This sounded strange to me.

It took me almost 10 years of living this Catholic life to get the serious (and unavoidable!)connection between the Eucharist, the concept of martyrdom, and the daily death to self we are all called to undergo.

Now that I "get it" I understand how intertwined our own everyday sufferings (and the greatest suffering- martyrdom) are with the suffering and death of our Lord. No wonder Jesus had to ask Saul of Tarsus, "Why are you persecuting me?"

From the moment he hung on the Cross, Christ has been gathering up what we experience in this life and making it fodder to transform us into fit subjects for the next life. Paul himself recognized this throughout his ministry.

The remindesr are sprinkled here and there throughout the Pauline corpus. Suffice it to mention one- Colossians 1:24-27

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking
in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body,
which is the church,
of which I am a minister in accordance
with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion
for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.

Ah-ha! This passage always used to bother me as a Protestant- waddaya mean? isn't Christ's suffering ENOUGH?

Now it begins to make sense.... Identity with Christ takes up our lives into His divine life... that IS the Church... that is what the East calls the mystery, or we in the West the sacrament of God's presence.

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