A Sign of the Church: Rupture, Not (Necessarily) Blood

I noticed a premise on the Rorate Caeli site here. Citing Thomas Becket via T. S. Eliot, what do you think of the saint’s assertion when confronted with violence and his death?

This is the sign of the Church always,
The sign of blood …

I wonder if citing martyrdom isn’t a bit indulgent on the part of some believers. I don’t want to question the English martyred bishop, but I do hold some skepticism for modern Catholics reaching for this example too much. An extension of the hermeneutic of victimhood, it seems to me.

The key discernment might be to question if the blood was shed for another. Sometimes blood is just the sign of running with scissors–an intentional misbehavior one knows will lead to bad consequences. Or just a slip of a knife. An accident. A misunderstanding of how things work.

First World Christians might do well to consider the Christian refugees flooding from the Middle East. They may not worship or enjoy the same culture as Roman Catholics or Protestant Evangelicals, but theirs is a true oppression of religious freedom. The right to be cranky from an armchair or a computer–not so much persecution in that.

Sometimes martyrdom isn’t about blood at all. I frequently think of the father who died to save his son from drowning in a septic tank.

For those who knew him, Vander Woude’s sacrifice was in keeping with a lifetime of giving.

“He’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back,” said neighbor Lee DeBrish. “And if he didn’t have one, he’d buy one for you.”

It seems people like Thomas Vander Woode had a lifetime of practice for sainthood. I can imagine a father with regrets caring for a son who had Down syndrome, who would never be a star athlete, a pilot, or any of the many things fathers dream of seeing in their sons. Did that require conversion, a change in attitude, a shifting of priorities? Is that more of what we should look for in a living, breathing church?

Flannery O’Connor is occasionally quoted in these blogosphere parts:

She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.

It seems to me that such a martyrdom might well be a rather “unconverted” one. With due respect for the American-British writer putting words in Thomas Becket’s mouth, I would opine that conversion is the sign of the Church, or rather of Jesus Christ. Hopefully the same.

I think about Jesus’ testimony of more joy for one repentant sinner than 99 virtuous people who never strayed, at least never seriously. That example suggests one significant rupture. Perhaps rupture is as much a sign of the Church. It certainly seems to be an expectation of the Lord.

And if we are talking about blood, it seems that the witness of most martyrs was on behalf of others. Not necessarily provoking the mob into giving out a “quick” sainthood.

Maybe the sign of the real Church is where people are willing to point out the blood and suffering of others, regardless of the personal cost. Maybe the sign of the real Church is where people decide to change, to turn around, and to follow a different star than yesterday’s.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, spirituality, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

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