"Ah yes, but here in France we don't really care about religion anymore."
- said to me by an acquaintance on a recent weekend trip
My first name is Stephen, given in tribute to my father, and my middle name is Lawrence, in memory of my grandfather. The patron saints of both of my first given names were not just early deacon-martyrs for the Faith, but are named every day in the whispers of priests all around the world during the Canon of the Mass.
In my youth I, as St. Francis of Assisi did, wished for red-blood-martyrdom. Go straight to the enemy lines, preach Jesus Christ fearlessly, and hopefully get chopped down in a hail of bullets. Straight to heaven! I could easily slough off this mortal coil for a few hours - days - weeks - years of pain and torture. For the young and impatient - yet possibly good-hearted soul - red martyrdom was the express line that promised an "easy" Heaven. Except that it isn't.
Some weeks back I was in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It's a lovely museum, and like all of London's, free and full of unexpected treasures. The particular treasure I was sitting in front of was a St. Margaret altarpiece. My mother's name is Margaret and as my eyes slipped over this five century old masterpiece of medieval art I wondered why I hadn't known her story better.
St. Margaret became convinced at a very early age, not just of the truth of Christ, but of the importance of offering her life and virginity to Our Lord, to the exclusion of an earthly spouse and family. This led her to be virtually cast out by her father and she was seen by a powerful lord who noticed her beauty and wished to marry her. Margaret refused for several reasons, not least of which was that she considered herself betrothed to Our Divine Savior. This man did not take rejection well and coincidentally hated Christianity and had Margaret:
1) stripped and whipped
2) whipped with iron combs and nails
3) burned and then cast into cold water alternately
4) ultimately beheaded when nothing else worked and Margaret's serenity of spirit started causing mass conversions among all who had been at these very public tortures
As if that wasn't enough, Satan was permitted, in the guise of a serpent, to tempt Margaret twice and she overcame him both times. In the altarpiece she is seen as "bursting" out of the serpent to symbolize her triumph.
It was fascinating to sit and study that altarpiece and think of times when not only were men and women ready to die for the true religion - but that the question of religion was such a life and death matter in the first place.
Traditional Catholics can be quite a conspiratorial bunch - with good reason - many "conspiracies" are simply hard truths. But some take the "from the catacombs" path that foresees a future where we will be persecuted as in the days of the early Church. I think that, frankly, the world has moved on.
If some future new world order regime chooses to jail us or ban religion it will not pick out Christians in particular but anyone willing to think differently from the non-religious dogma laid down for us by our masters. We won't be able to die for our faith, as so many - like my younger self - might wish. We'll simply be ignored as benighted yammering idiots who are silly enough to consider religion as something more than a matter of taste.
The indifference our era lives is inexorably tied to the fact that modern man has nowhere to plant his feet. Awash in the overmuch of digital information modern man is happy enough to clasp onto the 1960s trope of "I'm okay, you're okay." The new religion is the simple but absurd dogma that all or no religions are simultaneously valid or invalid.
Modern man's truest convictions are rooted in passing things: sports teams, false and real nationalism, passing political action, fashions, etc. Consumed by ephemerata, man has no firm dirt or foundation to stake the unyielding, cruel, hard truths of Christianity into. It is that hard stake that baptism gives us that grace invites us to grow, build on, adorn, and decorate as our own, reaching up through leaves and branches to the living God.
It's easy to wait for the persecutions, following news stories about what is happening hither and thither. Anything to keep us from the quiet within our own soul - where beyond the morality of everyday life - we must accept that the post-Christian epoch needs white martyrs. It needs a militant leaven that shows the world how Christians truly love one another. The soft glow of that white light will burst out of bushel baskets and might be the only thing that can blot out the noise of a world and generation for whom red martrydom is simply a fantasy: an element of a video game.
So stop waiting for the persecutions that may - but probably won't - come. Stop all your excuses. Commit yourself to a white martyrdom in an age when a red martyrdom is not just unlikely, but unnecessary. Sts. Stephen, Lawrence, and Margaret, pray for us to share in your courage. Amen.