July 1, 2012 by eneubauer
As I reflect this weekend, praying through The Liturgy of the Hours, I came upon the celebration of “The First Martyrs of the Church of Rome.” After the burning of Rome in AD 64 Emperor Nero launched a vicious attack of persecution against Christians. This fact is reflected in the writings of both Tacitus and Pope St. Clement I. The readings for June 30 included an excerpt from a letter to the Church at Corinth from St. Clement I reminding the community of those who paid the ultimate price for faith in Christ.
St. Clement I gives us a short list of early martyrs. Included in this list are Sts. Peter and Paul in addition to brave women like Dirce and the daughters of Danaus. We must remember that even Pope St. Clement I is believed to have lost his life at the hands of the Emperor Trajan. In reading and reflecting on these stories, the challenges and trials of being a Christian in the early years of the Church I am reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples:
“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:20 ESV)
I write today because of a thought which came to me during my time in prayer and reflection. In the early Church martyrs were understood to be, “noble models of our own generation” which is in contrast to a uniquely American or Western way of thinking. The Church in the modern world has grown so accustomed to the relative “religious” peace of our western world that it is hard for us to imagine this type of persecution or the nobility of it. The idea of martyrdom is also complicated by the fact that terrorism falsely uses the idea of religious martyrdom to lure men and women to become willing accomplices in acts of terror against civilian (& military) targets. In light of these two realities I think certain things are lost upon modern Christians.
First, we forget the fact that many Christians are being martyred today simply because they are Christians. It is happening in Iraq, Iran, within many countries of Africa and in China. For these people and their faith communities we must pray and hope that they will continue to be a witness of Christ’s love in the face of imprisonment, torture and often certain death.
Second, I think we (westerners) must remember that our faith should be developed (or formed) in such a way as to strengthen our resolve towards faithfulness in case we encounter religious persecution within the confines of our own country. In light of growing secularization in almost every corner of western society it should not be surprising that Christians (and others of religious commitment) may encounter less than positive treatment within the society in the near future.
In light of Christian persecution in many corners of our world and the changes within our own culture we should commit to form ourselves in such a way that – when religious persecution comes we are confident in what we believe, know why we believe it, retain our commitment to nonviolent protest and continue our verbal witness of Christ’s radical and self-sacrificing love.