The word “martyr” means witness (martus) who gives testimony about something he witnesses (martyrian). The apostles were witnesses to Christ’s life, suffering, and resurrection. They died because they gave witness before the enemies of Christ. It is not the dying that made them martyrs, but the witnesses. It was only later in the history of the Church that the term was applied exclusively to those who died for this witness. When you read the Fathers of the Church, you see that anyone who suffered for his witness of the Truth is a martyr, even if they were not put to death because of it.
Wait, you say, because I am relatively safe in the more civilized West, the chances of my dying for the Faith are relatively low. While that might be true, all of us are called to be witnesses to the truth, and, as St. Thomas says, all truth, no matter who says it, comes from God. When we stand up for the truth, even in non-religious matters, we are being witnesses—and the world does not like the truth. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates asked his interlocutors what justice is. One of them replied that justice is always in the interest of the stronger. This meant that there was no objective measure of justice. The one who pays the piper calls the tune, as the old expression goes. Socrates tries to show that there is an objective nature of justice, no matter who has the power. It is the same with truth. Truth exists and can be discerned by reason and revelation no matter who has the power. But the people in power hate the objective truth and objective justice, especially because it threatens a concrete interest of theirs. (Refer to my article “What a Character” in the blog.) This is why we must be witnesses to the truth, and in doing so, we bring suffering on ourselves. We should say the truth with prudence, realizing that a baby cannot have solid food, and we should witness with love and kindness. But witness we must.
We also must witness in every area of life. The Vatican II Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity says that the laity witness primarily in their families and in the marketplace. So this means that we are first called to be a witness by living an upright life, to be honest, concerned for the welfare of others, and actually do what is in our power to do, and love our families and raise our children to be true children of God. We witness to the doctrine of the Church when it is appropriate to discuss such things. We witness to truth and justice in political life by voting, getting involved, writing our representatives, and learning the truths of economics as the science has discovered them.
Doing these things is wonderful, but it will attract persecution. This is where the suffering comes in. So many good persons have been vilified because they support the truth in economics against the current administration’s intended policies. They have been labeled as not caring for the poor, as being paid by insurance companies, being liars and lunatics. It is a disgrace, all in the name of keeping political power and installing a more socialist and statist regime. Catholics even attack other Catholics because the first group has no knowledge of either Catholic Social Teaching or economics, and labels the second group as heretics, or, and one person has said and written about yours truly, “Dr. Luckey has single-handedly destroyed Catholic Social Teaching.”
When I was younger, I read somewhere that all those who go to heaven are called to be either wet or dry martyrs. Standing up for the truth may not get us killed, but it can make life miserable. As Jesus told us, even members of our own household may become our enemies.
It is the same thing with sin. Our catechisms, when we were young, assuming that we had a good religious training, told us about sin, but the sins written of were basic sins that anyone can be prone to: taking an orange from a grocery store, hitting someone, gossip, impure thoughts and desires, missing Mass when attendance is required, etc. Never do these catechisms tells us about the sin of respect of persons, whereby we become unjust by not judging objectively but according to the status of the person before us. But politicians do this all the time. They ask, especially on the margins, where does my support come from, both financial and in terms of votes, and formulate their positions on issues accordingly. Even principled politicians will, when push comes to shove, abandon their principles for the most part if their jobs are threatened.
We Catholics have to examine our consciences, all of us, even officeholders, and ask, firstly, are we saying the truth all the time, always with kindness and prudence; but, maybe more importantly, are we willing to be martyrs for it? Even when we commit less grievous sins (excluding words that might just slip out of our lips and the like), is it not because we are not willing to suffer to do what is right? It feels better to get our anger off our chest, so we act with uncharitableness toward someone who irritates us. Gossip is always so satisfying because we know something juicy that someone else does not know. Gossip is especially great if it is about a person for whom we do not particularly care. And then there is (unlawful) sex, where some people think they are actually going to die if they do not have it, although that would be a first in the history of medicine.
We are all called to be martyrs one way or the other. Many of us are called to be martyrs for the truth of the common good. Then let us resolve every day that we will not give in; that we will suffer, by and with God’s grace, whatever he allows for standing up for truth in our speech, and in our actions, whether in public or in private lives; whether in the religious or political/economic spheres. Do you want a better world? It has to start with you and me, here and now.