Martyrdom Then, What Now – Bearing Witness To The Truth

October 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

For those of you who might be offended by graphic language––descriptive, not lurid––this post could be problematic. My objective is to make a glorious point about our Catholic faith, its Truth, but my method will be unconventional.

Caravaggio_-_Martirio_di_San_Pietro

Vice President Biden stated in his debate with Congressman Ryan that he personally agrees with the Catholic Church’s position on abortion. However, he didn’t think his personal views should be imposed on others with different beliefs.

If only he could whisper “Sorry, kid, outta my hands” in the ears of the 3,300 babies in the womb who will be murdered today. I don’t think he’d be smiling.

It seems going to the wall for your faith has fine print.

Perhaps, I’m being too harsh. Don’t all (some, most) of us deny our faith at some point or another––deny God in effect; those moments when it’s convenient or wise or comfortable or politically correct or expedient or safe or popular to do so.

I’ve been thinking about that very point so I’d like you to imagine the following scene.

I see movement but it’s indistinct. Shadows mostly. Suddenly, the blindfold is removed. Light scalds my retinas. It appears I’m in a concrete shelter, no windows, fluorescent light.

“Bud Steele was your father, isn’t that true?” The questioner is a stern, no-nonsense type. I’m uncomfortably bound to a chair bolted to the floor.

“Yeah. Although I’m not sure why you’re asking.”

“I want you to renounce your father,” he said.

“Reject my father? You’re deranged. No way.” What the hell is this? Where is this heading?

“He was a liar and a con man!” he shouts.

“Who are you, telling me about my dad. You know nothing.”

“I know he wasn’t who he appeared to be.”

“Listen, pal. He was a great father who loved me and taught me about the world. He was undeniably good, decent, and honest. Pound sand why dontcha.”

“I’m going to give you one more opportunity to tell the truth. Your father manipulated you, told you fantasies, said things that weren’t true. Didn’t he?”

“Not once did he ever lie to me. He was extraordinary in about a million ways. What’s this about?”

“Your father has caused a lot of trouble and we don’t like that. Quite simply, I want you to repudiate him. Admit he was a charlatan. And then I’ll let you go.”

“You want me to lie. I won’t do that.” How can I get out of here?

“You might want to reconsider. It’s for your own good.”

“If I don’t?”

“I want to be crystal clear. If you refuse my request, I’m going to hurt you. Slowly. You’ll most likely die.”

“You’re beyond insane.”

No response. Who is this guy? Is he serious? No way will I write off my father. Never. Dad always told me to do the right thing, to live and die with integrity, character and conviction.

To deny my father would be like denying myself. I know who I am.

“My answer is no.”

He anticipates my answer. He smiles ruefully.

“So be it. As we move forward, and this will take a while, please be aware that you have the power to stop it. All you have to do is tell me what I want to hear. No one will know.”

He pulls a scalpel out of his pocket. I lock on it. Almost casually, he inserts his finger from his other hand in my mouth and stretches my cheek. In a flash, the scalpel ascends and with surgical dexterity, he brutally slices the corner of my mouth. The blood erupts, the pain is extreme.

“I bet that hurts. Your father was a liar. C’mon, you can tell me.”

I’m screaming, but it sounds like someone else. I’m violently thrashing in my chair but then I abruptly stop. I’m again mesmerized by the scalpel, which is now inches from my left eye.

“I should wash off the blood. Hope it doesn’t slip.” He rolls the scalpel across his knuckles. He’s done this before.

He speaks. “This will be more painful, I can assure you. Your father was a liar, yes?” Long pause. “I’m not hearing anything. Please pay attention.” Another pause. “Forgive me.”

His hand roughly slaps me and then holds my left eye open. I see the dull silver blade, it hangs in the air for a moment and then slashes horizontally across my cornea; a quick painter’s stroke. My eye explodes like a ripened cherry tomato.

My hideous wail is interrupted as I start to vomit. The pain is so unbearable that I begin to pass out but my torturer is two steps ahead. He pushes a rag to my nose; its saturated chemical contents jar me awake. “We’ve only begun,” he says. “You were about to say something?”

“Okay! Okay! Please, just stop. I’ll tell you! Whatever you want.”

Early Church tradition tells us that ten of the original twelve apostles were martyred. The methods used to kill them varied but they all were gruesome. I’ve been trying to imagine the ordeal of these first martyrs. In my example above, I would have renounced my father. I would have said anything; the pain would have been overpowering.

Yet, for the original apostles, to reject Jesus would have been unfathomable. All of them were asked to deny Jesus Christ under threat of torture and death. None of them did. They had lived with Jesus but weren’t about to deny their faith. They suffered unimaginably for it.

Grant Jeffrey’s book, The Signature of God states the following about the martyrs: “All they had to do to escape martyrdom was to admit they had concocted a lie and simply deny their faith and claims about Jesus as God. It defies both common sense and the evidence of history that anyone, let alone a group of twelve men, would persist in proclaiming a lie when they could walk away by admitting that it was a fraud.

“Yet, history reveals that not one of these men, who knew Jesus personally, ever denied their testimony about Him despite the threat and reality of imminent death. This proves to any fair-minded observer that these men possessed an absolute unshakable personal knowledge about the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Each of the apostles was called upon to pay the ultimate price to prove their faith in Jesus, affirming with their life’s blood that Jesus was the true Messiah, the Son of God, and the only hope of salvation for a sinful humanity.”

I find the apostles’ fate remarkably compelling.

We give Medals of Honor for the sacrifice of self, because we recognize how heroic and rare it is. Yet, save for Judas the traitor and John, one hundred percent of the apostles exhibited this same heroism.

It wasn’t my intention to make anyone uncomfortable with my cinematic tactic. I was only trying to make a very real point and I, for one, appreciate uneasy moments when I have to reflect on my values. When I have to ask myself:

What am I willing to do for my faith?