Martyrdom and Courage

Today the Catholic Chruch recognizes the memorial of St. Augustine Zhao Rong and his companions, Chinese and foreign missionaries to China martyred at various points during the 17th through 20th centuries.

I’ve been thinking these past days about the courage and fortitude of those who have been martyred for their faith. Reading some of the homilies of Oscar Romero reminds me of his continued outspokenness against poverty, social injustice and government-sanctioned torture, even when it became clear that his words would lead to his death. It is reported that when his friend, the Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande was assassinated, Romero said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.'”

Coincidentally, I just read in Brother David Steindl-Rast’s most recent book (Deeper than Words) the story of a priest named Heinrich Maier, who was part of the resistance movement during World War II and who was arrested for his stand against the enslavement and killing of millions by the Germans. Brother David reports that Maier was “tied, naked, to the window grating in prison and tortured; that, even under torture, he did not betray a single one of his co-conspiritors.”

I’m humbled when I think of the Romeros, Maiers, Zhao Rongs, and countless others over the years who were killed as a consequence of their efforts to spread the Gospel – their efforts to live their own lives consistently with the Gospel and to call others to do the same. Most of us will not be asked to face death for our faith. But we are asked to proclaim the Gospel with courage, to live and exhort others to live Christian lives even when it is not easy to do so. And so I pray this day for the strength of the holy martyrs, for the courage to follow Christ faithfully and to proclaim the Gospel to all.