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The Need for Martyrs

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Lawrence.  He was a deacon under Pope St. Sixtus II and was martyred in 258 A.D.  Yesterday we celebrated the optional memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (aka Edith Stein) who was martyred during World War II.  Our Catholic Church has a long history of martyrs beginning with St. Stephen found whose story and what followed can be found in chapters 6-8 of the Acts of the Apostles.

One might wonder why the church continues to have martyrs today.  Is there value in martyrdom?  All we have to do to see the value of martyrdom is go back and read the story of Stephen and what followed.  He was among six handpicked by the Twelve Apostles to be a deacon.  He was martyred for his faith.  After his martyrdom, the disciples spread because of the persecution.  They went out to new lands but they did not give up on their faith.  Because of the witness of St. Stephen, they continued to preach the gospel and the church spread out through new lands.

I wonder what the Church would be like today if there had never been martyrs.  Why?  The word martyr literally means “witness”.  A martyr is so steadfast in their faith that they would rather die than abandon their faith.  This is needed in the world.  We need to see people who put their faith above all else.  The willingness of the martyrs to accept death has served to strengthen the faith of the people who saw their martyrdom and even for us today.

The martyrs gave their all.  As we read in today’s first reading from 2 Corinthians, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  The martyrs “sowed bountifully”, cheerfully giving their lives so that there will be a bountiful harvest of disciples.

People are still being martyred today.  We must not let their voices go unheard.  I encourage you to spend some time in prayer thinking about what the martyrs mean for you.  I used to not think about the martyrs much.  Then, I was ordained a priest on June 30th, the Memorial of the First Roman Martyrs.  Now, I think about my service to God and the Church as my way of honoring the martyrs.


Fr. Jeff


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