Reflection – 4th May 2020
In the Calendar of Saints which we use in our Benefice, today is the Feast of the English Martyrs, in which we commemorate those who died for the Faith over the centuries, particularly in the period following the so-called ‘Reformation’ in the 16th and 17th Centuries, It is, of course, right that we laud their memory and deeds, whilst not forgetting to pray for the souls of those who inflicted terrible suffering and torments on them, often for the sake of political or economic gain.
A ‘martyr’ is, of course, properly speaking, a ‘witness’; someone who witnesses to the Truth through their voluntary suffering and death. It is very important to note that martyrdom is an act of witness to the Truth – not to any perceived ‘truth’ but to the Truth. What is this Truth? It is nothing other than Jesus Christ, who stated that he is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ (John 14:6) and who has confirmed his words through his Resurrection.
Yet in our own times it is often held that there is no such thing as the truth, but only a multiplicity of perceived truths. There is my truth, there is your truth and any number of other truths. Truth itself thus becomes something which is entirely subjective and it does not matter if these ‘truths’ contradict each other, so long as they are ‘true’ for the one who holds each!
This, of course, is nonsense on stilts! The ‘principle of non-contradiction’ is a basic rule of thinking clearly: something cannot be both black and white at the same time. Two plus two does equal four. It does not equal five merely because you would like it to! So, with regard to martyrdom, it is to be seen as such only if it is a witness to the Truth, which is to be found only in Christ. One cannot, properly speaking, be a witness to something that is false, something that is opposed to Christ. Otherwise, one could properly talk of Nazi war criminals, for instance, as being ‘martyrs’ – for, after all, were they not prepared to die for their Nazi ‘faith’? If one holds that all ‘truths’ are valid, then one must hold that the ‘truth’ of the Nazis was valid and true for them!
Martyrdom is to be praised and honoured only if it is true martyrdom only if it is martyrdom for Christ. To die for a falsehood is a tragic error. To be sure, we may respect the courage of one who is prepared to die for their belief, even though it is false (provided we respect the courage of all those who die for their beliefs, however evil they may be) but in doing so we are not honouring ‘martyrs’ but actually are honouring the concept and act of courage itself.
True martyrdom is the self-offering of oneself, one’s very life, for the sake of Jesus Christ our true God, the one who is Truth itself. By taking up our cross and following him (Matt. 16:24) we become truly ‘witnesses’ for God. Today, therefore, we rightly honour those men and women of the past who have, in laying down their lives for Christ, received the crown of eternal life.