Friday, September 24, 2010

"I'm a Christian, kill me too!!"

In 258, when Bishop Cyprian was arrested and tried for being a Christian, his sentencing in the marketplace of the great city of Carthage was witnessed by many thousands of citizens, including no doubt many hundreds of his flock. (We have the court stenographer's record of the trial.) As the soldiers led him away in chains to be executed, dozens and dozens of Christians started chasing them down the road, shouting, "I'm a Christian, kill me too!!" In fear of what might happen if they killed so many, the soldiers beat them and chased them off before martyring the great bishop.

This is not only exemplary faith, of course, but also the fruit of how that faith was lived out. Christians at that time knew they faced the possibility of martyrdom, both literal and figurative. The world was overtly, violently hostile to Christ, far more so than today's anti-Christian sentiment. They were therefore taught in their catechesis and in sermons to prepare for it. They were taught that love for God, Christian virtue, meant being so attached already to what is promised for the next life, that persecution and struggle in this life cannot injure it. They took literally what St. Paul says, "What can separate us from the love of God?" Nothing, certainly, in this life!

The technical name for that attitude was detachment - Greek, "apotasso," Latin, "renuntiatio."

What do we renounce today? What part of the world are we sacrificing, knowingly, in order to belong to Christ?

My own participation in this year's 40 Days for Life campaign and kickoff has brought this question forcefully to mind this week. What is the depth of my love for these poor? Would I be there for those innocent little ones, if the police were ready to drag me off to a severe beating, imprisonment, exile, or even death? Would I still run after them and their mothers -- so often lied to, scared, and compelled by others into such a "choice" -- crying with more perfect charity, "I'm a Christian, kill me too!!" Can I have such love in my heart, even when our pro-life speech and witness is protected, not persecuted?

Few of us will ever have to answer that question in fact. But all of us should be preparing for it.

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