The Faith and Strength of Martyrs

Yesterday Pope Francis conducted (for the first time) the venerable rite for the canonization of  a group of martyrs–among which are the Martyrs of Otranto who valiantly refused to deny their faith in the risen Christ. Reflecting upon the courage of these martyrs, I could not help but ask the same question that our beloved Pope Francis asked in his message: “Where did they find the strength to remain faithful? Without question the faith and strength of martyrs throughout history has been truly outstanding.

I recalled this reading I had some time ago about a survey about Christian believers that asked the hypothetical question of whether they would be willing to give up their life for their faith in Christ. I do not recall the exact numbers, but thousands of people who responded said that they would gladly die for Christ. While my heart swells at this expression of faith, I believe that to die for Christ is easier said than done.

I am not saying that we cannot do it–that we are not capable of dying for Christ. All I am saying is that I believe it would take a lot of work and prayer to have anything close to the faith and strength of martyrs.

Let me quote St. Cyprian:

How can I find the words to praise you, most courageous brethren? How can I compose a speech worthy of the strength of your heart and your perseverance in faith? You endured questioning by the cruellest tortures right through to the glorious end. You did not yield to suffering, but the sufferings yielded to you. The tortures did not bring the end of your torment, but the crown of martyrdom did. The intensification of the tortures went on and on, not to break down the steadfast faith but to send the men of God the sooner to their Lord.