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.