Today the Catholic Church in England and Wales celebrates the canonized saints and recognized beati of Reformation times. In 2013 I wrote about them here, and on several other occasions I have written about reclaiming the idea of Christian martyrdom from the Islamist version prevalent in the media today. Dying for Christ, the red martyrdom of the title, is one thing; but what about white martyrdom, the term used by St Jerome for the daily living for Christ practised by monks and ascetics? Where does that come in?
Today’s section of the Prologue of the Rule, verses 14 to 19, sketches a useful vignette of the ‘martyr monk’, and it is interesting to note how much of it is concerned with a right use of speech and control of the passions or desires that motivate our conduct. To seek peace, to pursue it with all the ardour of a lover, is a key element in attaining the purity of prayer and action that will allow us to follow the way of life. It all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it, until we actually try it and discover that learning to control our tongue and act rightly is a huge task, a daily challenge. Dying for Christ begins to sound much more appealing, much easier, in fact, than this long, slow martyrdom we have undertaken in monastic life! And I daresay those who do not live the monastic life but do their best to be faithful disciples in the world would say the same.
Common to both red and white martyrdom is this: we choose Christ. In choosing Christ, we do not choose life or death as such. That is for him to decide. We ‘merely’ accept what he chooses for us and live, or die, by his choice. There is immense freedom in that, but both require courage of a special order. Today we might all ask the prayers of the martyrs that, whatever Christian path we tread, we may have the courage and fidelity we need to pursue it to the end.