Catholic author, Peter J. Kreeft, in his new book, “How to Destroy Western Civilization and Other Ideas from the Cultural Abyss“, recalls the unshakable faith of the early Christian martyrs who refused to recant from what they knew to be true. They went joyously to their death singing out, “Credo in unum Deum….”. Therefore Kreeft asks:
”What is the difference between then and now? Then every Christian knew one salient fact about Christianity, that it is either EVERYTHING or NOTHING, either the world’s stupidest lie or the world’s ultimate truth, that if Jesus Christ is not literally everything to you, then He is nothing at all. Now almost no one knows that anymore, and those who do, and say so are labelled fanatics.”
If Jesus Christ is everything to us, then what do we care if the world labels us a diversity of derogatory names? Why should we worry if we are ostracised and mocked? We should rejoice in our humiliations and suffering: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21).
Many believers may not be aware that we are all called to be living martyrs. Blessed Pius XII reminds us: “Not all of us are called to die a martyr’s death, but we are all called to the pursuit of Christian virtue. This demands strength of character…a constant, persistent and relentless effort is asked of us right up to the moment of our death. This may be conceived as a slow, steady martyrdom”.
Whatever sin is crucified in this present life will escape God’s retributive justice in Purgatory. The lifestyle of a living martyr is, in a very real sense, Purgatory Now, and if we have been purified in this life, we have been made ready for the Beatific Vision in the next one: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
The earnest and consistent embrace of the lifestyle of a living martyr ultimately prepares us for Heaven. How important it is to live our lives in the light of eternity! St. Paul confirms and underscores the teaching of Jesus in talking about the living martyrs who are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in [their] mortal flesh” (II Cor. 4:10).