Defining A Martyr

Considering a photojournalist, an archbishop, and countless others, who determines martyrdom? Is it the martyrs themselves? Their survivors and colleagues and loved ones? Their murderers? Some post-death committee of truth? The number of disciples who follow in their footsteps?

Do politics negate martyrdom in some way, especially if some want to politicize one side or another? Regarding Mr Foley and Archbishop Romero, does their heroic witness get dampened if either leftists or anti-Islam crusaders want to fly a banner for their own purposes?

To that last question, I’m inclined to say no. Saint Patrick isn’t damaged because centuries later, his feast day is a mid-Lent exercise in eating beef and drinking too much beer.

I think a martyr’s survivors and disciples get to choose, with or without the Church’s blessing. I think a martyr is defined in part by her or his life’s witness and in part by how others who follow live their Christian witness in the world because of that act of sacrifice.

Will James Foley inspire other lay people to live lives of faith and quality and commitment in the face of danger? I suspect he might. Has Archbishop Romero inspired others to live like him? I would suggest his witness runs deeper than pilgrimages to his cathedral and the to-and-fro of the tussle between theologies.

As long as a martyr remains only an entry in a page on a liturgical calendar, only the source of miracles and wonder, I wonder if that’s enough.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Defining A Martyr

  1. Devin says:

    I don’t have a dog in the fight over the definition of a marytr. But today’s patristic reading the LOTH has an interesting insight on the Passion of St. John the Baptist.

    “There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”

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