Catholics and History
The Catholic Church is kind of like a forest sometimes. Someone on the outside looking in sees nothing but thousands of trees…and most of them look alike. They can see a definite shape to the forest, and elevations that someone inside might miss. On the other hand, they’ll never see up-close nature like the plants and animals inside. They can hear about them, but never live through the experience.
So when Christian brothers and sisters see the Catholic Church’s strange fascination with martyrdom, they might find it morbid…or even alarming. Every church talks about and honors their martyrs, but Catholics seem to go overboard. We read and write book after book on it.
Like a nature photographer, we show pictures and try to help other Christians connect with this Catholic mind set. No, they won’t truly understand until they’re inside, but they might get a glimpse of some of the logic behind the allure that draws Catholics to study the dead saints.
Why We Study Martyrs
When Jesus told Peter that “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword”, there’s something he didn’t say, but is equally as true. He didn’t have to say it…he showed us in the chilling climax of his life. That truth is, “He who lives by the cross, dies by the cross.”
Think about it long and hard enough, and it’s discouraging to anyone trying to lead a Christian life. But to a Catholic, it can be comforting. We feel the daily pains of health, financial, or even marital problems, and start to loose focus on our purpose in life. And life without purpose isn’t life at all. It’s death…death without purpose. So to find meaning in life, we look for meaning in death. And we see dying for one’s faith as a purpose.
Meaning in Pain and Suffering
But living for one’s faith is a whole different story. It means a new act of perseverance every time we feel the temptation to despair. It means constant vigilance against a desire that might weigh on us at every moment of every day. Throughout the distractions (or even the monotonous drag of daily work schedules) we need something to focus on. We need to know that this is all going somewhere. We want reassurance (just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane) that our dismal or even painful existence leads to a greater good.
And so we turn to the martyrs, because as morbid as their deaths were, it was their lives that made them great. In their lives we find connection. We see that the pain leads to a definite end. We might not like the details, but the glory of giving ourselves to God in death shows us the glory of giving ourselves to God in life. And this leads to fulfillment when we try to justify our suffering