Martyrs

Fr.Maximilian_Kolbe_1939

It is sad that many people now principally hear the word ‘martyr’ in the context of what, for want of a better term, I can only call Islamic extremism. There is a world of difference between the suicide bomber who inflicts death on others in the name of religion and the Christian martyr who suffers death rather than betray the One in whom he/she believes. Seeking martyrdom is, according to the Christian understanding, wrong; but if today you should want to be a martyr, you do not have to travel very far. Go to North Africa and the Middle East, to the lands of the first martyrs, and there you will find opportunity in plenty. The Christians of Mosul and Qaraqosh know all there is to know about the cost of witnessing to Christ.

St Maximilain Kolbe, whose feast we keep today, knew about that cost, too. He stood up to a brutal regime and paid the price for his Christian beliefs. In an earlier post, Standing Up and Being Counted, I reflected on the nature of his martyrdom and my own initial difficulty in seeing him as a martyr in the classical sense. In another, Feeling a Failure, I wondered aloud about the thoughts and feelings he experienced in that dark bunker as his life ebbed away. Today, however, I think I would simply ask his prayers, and the prayers of all the saints, for our persecuted brothers and sisters. The martyrs of our own day are no less glorious in their fidelity than those of the past.

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Simple Goodness

In previous years I have written about St Dominic in terms of truth and beauty, but this morning, with Iraqi Christians and Yazidis fleeing before their persecutors and the situation of Christians in Syria and other parts of the Near and Middle East scarcely better, I am attracted to that third part of the Platonic trinity: goodness.

Goodness doesn’t get very much attention these days, probably because we have become lazy in our thinking. We tend to see goodness as something other than virtue, i.e. not a moral quality as such but something innate over which we have little control. We are ‘good’ in the same way that we are blue-eyed or brown-haired. It may not be in our genes, but it is somehow part of us. I’m not quite convinced of that.

God is the supreme good, and I trust St Dominic might forgive this non-Dominican for thinking that the love of truth he inculcated in his sons and daughters was part of the quest for this supreme good. But how is goodness linked to this supreme good, God? In the Germanic languages the connection with God is fairly obvious; so can we say that goodness is a reflection of God, a God-given quality, in fact? If so, it is something we are free either to accept or reject, and so far is it from being innate, we must work at it as we must work at other qualities.

I think part of the solution to the problem I have posed myself can be found in the title of this blog post. I spoke of ‘simple goodness’. The Prologue to the Rule of St Benedict is largely about purity of heart — the simplification of being that results in closeness to God. To be close to God is to be like him — to be good, as he is good. St Dominic wanted everyone to be close to God and as like him as possible. It is a challenge we must take up in our own lives.

I am not sure how that can help our Iraqi brothers and sisters, but I am certain that it can.

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