The Green Martyrdom

(Continued from “Called to tell our stories.”)

I began this 2019 Lenten series contrasting my need for Lent with the present reality of likely martyrdom faced by Syrian believers under the threat of ISIS. As the saying goes, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, and from her earliest years, the church has recognized what we have in these prosperous times forgotten–the value of, indeed the very call to, martyrdom. Even after Rome had converted and believers were no longer fed to the lions, martyrdom was so essential to Christian identity, that many faithful left the comforts of home to pursue what Saint Jerome called “the White Martyrdom” by seeking God in the isolation of desert life.

Those who would criticize such a practice have failed to see that we are indeed called to be martyrs.  In fact, our call to the vocation of being witnesses is essentially connected to martyrdom; the New Testament word from which we get “martyrs” is the Greek word which we translate “witnesses.”  John reveals this deep connection in Revelation when he says we overcome “by the word of [our] testimony and not loving [our] lives even unto death” (12:11). Furthermore, Jesus pronounces blessing over those who suffer for the Gospel, and he gives such blunt assurance that we will suffer like our Lord, that any of us claiming Christ who do not suffer much have cause for self evaluation.

Still, I am thankfully not in a likely place to meet with real persecution, and I cannot leave home for the desert to seek the white martyrdom. Most of us cannot; nor should we. Yet I am inspired this St. Patrick’s day by the idea of “the Green Martyrdom.” It seems that the ministry of Patrick and his first followers in Ireland was so effective that they quickly found the possibility of “red martyrdom” (death or violent persecution) quite elusive. And there were no deserts in Ireland where one could find a white martyrdom. Those saintly men and women who sought God in seclusion quickly found that communities of the faithful would spring up around them, hoping to learn of them the truth of the gospel and sanctity of life. So, they learned to live a hospitable austerity…sharing their lives generously in the midst of often stringent disciplines of prayer and fasting.

This is the martyrdom we, living in this most prosperous nation, can all pursue. We are called to the difficult path of dying to self daily in big and small things. But truth be told, it is mostly that tedious daily path of tiny deaths that is so hard because it requires faithfulness…not just sacrifice. And so, Ash Wednesday called us to repent of all those things that these first several days of fasting have already begun to reveal, which were previously hidden in our hearts.

For all our unfaithfulness and disobedience, for the pride, vanity and hypocrisy of our lives;

For our unrighteous anger, bitterness and resentment;

For our sexual impurity, exploitation of other people, and failure to give of ourselves in love;

For our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our intemperate pursuit of worldly goods and comforts;

For our dishonesty in daily life and work, our ingratitude for your gifts, and our failure to heed your call;

For our blindness to human need and suffering, and our indifference to injustice and cruelty;

For all false judgments, prejudice and contempt of others, uncharitable thoughts and actions towards our neighbors;

For our negligence in prayer and worship, our presumption and abuse of your means of grace…;

And when the discomfort of fasting removes from me all the worldly padding that makes being nice and tolerant of others an easy substitute for truly loving God and my neighbor, I find all of these things so clearly and undeniably present in me. So we pray:

Lord have mercy upon us. For we have sinned against you.

Then, recognizing that all sins are but the manifestation of the unrighteousness of idolatry, we pray:

O Lord our God, grant us the grace to desire you with our whole heart, that desiring you, we may seek you; and that seeking you, we may find you; and that finding you we may love you; and that loving you, we may hate those sins from which you have delivered us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is, I think, the “green martyrdom” to which we are called in Christ Jesus during this Lenten season.


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