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Is Martyrdom A Sign That Christians Have Failed to Communicate?



Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 06/09/15

If Christians only explained ourselves better, some think, surely they'd love us

TO: Department of Narrative Management, Image Adjustment, Spin, Hedging & Distraction

FROM:  Dicastery for Outreach, Dialogue, Engagement, Advancement, Collaboration & Wellness

RE:  Martyrdom, Present & Future

Dear Monsignor U. Mountebank,

At the direction of the members of the Dicastery at the conclusion of our last meeting, I am writing you to address the painful subject of martyrdom. For years now, many members of the Dicastery have fondly wished and firmly believed that we would not have to address this subject again. We had hoped that after our strenuous efforts, the very idea of dying for the Faith (sic) would be quietly relegated to the more secluded and anachronistic quarters of the Museum of Christianity’s Distant and Dead Past. You can imagine our surprise and dismay, then, at the emergence of recent images of martyrdom taking place in our own time, along with reports (surely exaggerated) of (obvious mis-understanders) of other faith traditions promising to murder more of our co-religionists in the future.

You can easily understand the embarrassment this has caused to members of the Dicastery. Imagine it: We are having a cordial meeting with representatives of Diverse-Yet-Equally-Valid-Ways-to-God, sharing a laugh while enjoying the local cuisine, when onto the nearest television screen flashes disturbing images of some ideologues dying because of an intransigent and ultimately incorrigible attitude towards prospective dialogue partners regarding the Faith (sic).  

I suppose that we should just resign ourselves to the fact that some of our co-religionists show simply no capacity for dialogue, outreach, mutual understanding and a celebration of the gorgeous mosaic of diversity—and this is so despite our very best effort over the years.  So be it.  And this is where you come in, Monsignor. The members of the Dicastery direct your Department to make every effort to make these people go away. Remove them from the media, remove them from conversation, remove them as objects of prayerful intercession.  Bleach them out of the popular mind and the pious soul.  “Photoshop them away”, as the younger generation might say.  We cannot afford the awkward intrusion of stubborn and bloody martyrs into the calm and earnest conversations with Others that we have worked so strenuously to cultivate.

Please submit to me as soon as possible your Department’s plan to realize this mandate to expel and forget the martyrs of the present and the future.

Rev. I. Quisling, Secretary for the Dicastery

Why begin this column with such an obviously over-the-top attempt at satire? I have a four-fold motivation: First, I wished to extend my reflections on persecution from my most recent column. Second, I wished to offer an oblique yet sincere tribute to C.S. Lewis’

The Screwtape Letters
. Third, I wished to draw attention to and build upon an important editorial on martyrdom, “The Martyrs Were Never for Dialogue, more recently translated from the original Italian by Rorate Caeli.
Finally, I wished to draw attention to an appalling and alarming catalog of the history of Christian martyrdom, drawn from Barret and Johnson’s encyclopedic work, World Christian Trends AD 30-2200.

Taking these motivations together, we can note the following salient points: 1) The Church has never emerged from the time of martyrdom; every age is the Age of Martyrs.  2) Best scholarly estimates put the number of Christian martyrs since the Church’s founding at about 80 million; about half of those killed for the Faith died in the 20th century.  3) The most contentious point: the voice of the martyrs of the 21st century are seen as a most unwelcome intrusion by secularists, anti-Christian sectarians and certain cadres of self-identified Christians. Let’s tackle the third point, starting with the assertions of the editorial cited above, and then we can surmise an evaluation and explanation of the editorial’s most provocative assertions.

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