“Throughout the entire history of the Church, men and women, such as Peter, have heroically paid the ultimate price for their Christian faith. Stories like these touch the deepest parts of our souls and stir up something powerful within us. They both break and inspire our hearts as we hear the gut-wrenching details of their suffering and heroic love for Christ. Although we may not be able to fathom the reality that these saints faced, we can’t help but wonder what we would do in such a circumstance. How would we respond when faced with the same question Jesus posed to Peter: “Will you lay down your life for me?” We may never face the ultimate life-or-death question that so many martyrs did, but it is prudent for us to recognize that, in a certain sense, we face this question every day. We are called to emulate the lives of the martyr—not through physical death but by embracing martyrdom in everyday life.
It is easy to be scared of what we don’t understand, and death is no exception to this statement; you will probably encounter few people in this lifetime who are ready to die. That is part of what makes the stories of the martyrs so compelling—to stare death in the face and accept it is something difficult for many of us to fathom. Yet the thousands of martyrs in the history of the Church did something far grander than simply die. If death was the only thing they did, there would be nothing to celebrate or honor. It is the fact that they died for the sake of Christ, reflecting in their actions the same selfless sacrifice that he made for us. Their sanctification comes from the action being offered for the sake of Christ and his mission, and not from the action itself. Yet, if we are never to face a situation that will call us into such an offering, it can be difficult to see how the martyrs can provide any useful insight into our own sanctification. At the surface, we may find a general sense of inspiration and courage from their stories, but there is far more to gain. While there is a temptation to focus on the single moment that made these men and women saints, their lives are much more complex. Their sainthoods were formed by the accumulation of many small moments that led them and prepared them to undergo their suffering. Whether it was fasting, isolating themselves from their family and friends to follow God’s call, or offering up their labor for God’s greater glory, they understood what it meant to be an everyday martyr—someone who dies to themselves each and every day for the sake of Christ. By dying to themselves day in and day out, they unknowingly prepared themselves for that ultimate test of faith. Through the examples they set, we can see that we, too, are capable of participating in a lower form of martyrdom every day.
In the hidden life of the everyday Christian, we are invited to intimately participate in Christ’s redemption. Although we may feel like distant observers to this, we see that the martyrs offer us an example of how to truly be present: by putting Christ at the center of our actions. To do this, we must embrace the everyday martyr mentality. Through dying to our lower desires and clinging to things that are higher, we are not only living like Christ, but as Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, we are being “changed into Christ.” This is the aim of all Christians—martyrs and non-martyrs alike. From embracing this mentality, there is hope that not only are we changed into Christ but that our families, and ultimately this world, may be too.
The Lenten season has traditionally been a time dedicated to embracing this type of prudence and obedience, but many of us stop at Lent. However, the call to everyday martyrdom continues throughout the entire calendar year. We are always called to reject that which is lower and cling to the higher. It may be a struggle, but it is one worth fighting for. When we fail, we can look to the martyr we mentioned earlier, Peter, for hope and inspiration. As a child, I remember I despised Peter for rejecting Christ during the Passion. No “real” man would ever do such a thing, I thought. To me, this made him weak and a coward. It wasn’t until I realized how easily I fall into sin (and when the stakes are far lower than those that Peter faced) that I began to understand his decision. Peter’s actions—like many of ours—were not only wrong; they failed to live up to the standards of the everyday martyr mentality. However, Peter showed us how we should respond to such failures. He repented and re-committed himself to living a life for the sake of Christ. The next time Peter would have to answer the “Will you lay down your life for me?” question, he would be ready to say yes and mean it.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "“Si comprehendus, non est Deus.” -St Augustine, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "As the reading of bad books fills the mind with worldly and poisonous sentiments; so, on the other hand, the reading of pious works fills the soul with holy thoughts and good desires." -St. Alphonsus Liguori, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, “Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him . . . God here speaks to souls through words uttered by pious people, by sermons or good books, and in many other such ways.” —St. Teresa of Avila, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity… I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism, and where lie the main inconsistences and absurdities of the Protestant theory.” (St. John Henry Newman, “Duties of Catholics Towards the Protestant View,” Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England), "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom