3/32.1 The example of the martyrs. The testimony we give as ordinary Christians. The virtue of fortitude.
Scripture tells us of the martyrdom of John the Baptist, who was faithful to the mission he had received from God to the point of giving his life. If he had kept silent, or if he had remained on the fringe of events at the difficult moments, he would not have died with his throat cut in Herod’s dungeon. But John was not like a reed blowing in the wind. Up to the very end he remained consistent with his vocation and true to the principles that gave meaning to his existence.
The blood John shed, together with that of the martyrs of all times, was to be united to the redeeming Blood of Christ so as to give us an example of love and steadfastness in the faith, an example of courage and of effectiveness. Martyrdom is the greatest expression of the virtue of fortitude and the supreme testimony of the truth that a person confesses to the extent of giving his life for it. The martyr’s example reminds us that we must bear witness to the faith... a witness which is personal, definite and, if such an event should occur, given at great cost and demanding exceptional courage. It reminds us finally that the martyr for Christ is not a hero far removed from us, but one of us; he is ours. His example teaches us that, if necessary, every Christian should be prepared to give up his life as a witness to his faith.
The martyrs are not only a matchless example from the past. Our own day is also a time for martyrs. Ours also has been a time of persecution even to the shedding of blood. The persecutions for the faith in our day are often similar to those that the martyrology of the Church has already recorded in centuries past. They merely assume different types of discrimination against believers, and the whole community of the Church...
Today there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of witnesses to the faith. They are often unknown to or forgotten by their contemporaries, or by ‘public opinion’, which finds its attention is taken up by other more engrossing events and personalities. Often only God knows them. They undergo daily privations in the most diverse regions of each of the continents.
We are speaking of believers obliged to meet clandestinely because their religious community is no longer authorized. We are speaking of bishops, priests and religious who are forbidden to exercise the holy ministry in their churches, or at public meetings...
We are speaking of generous youths, who are prevented from entering a seminary or a place of religious formation in order to follow their own vocation there. We are speaking of parents who are denied the possibility of ensuring that their children receive an education inspired by their own faith.
We are speaking of men and women, manual workers and intellectuals, of people drawn from all the professions, who, by the simple fact of professing their faith run the risk of seeing themselves deprived of a brilliant future career in keeping and commensurate with their studies.
However, God does not ask the majority of Christians to shed their blood in testimony of the faith they profess. But he does ask of everyone a heroic steadfastness in proclaiming the truth through his life and words in environments which may be difficult and hostile to the teachings of Christ. He asks them to live fully the Christian virtues in the middle of the world, in whatever circumstances life has placed them. This is the path that the majority of Christians will have to tread – Christians who have to sanctify themselves through living heroism in the duties and circumstances of each day. Today’s Christian needs the virtue of fortitude in a special way. This virtue, as well as being humanly so attractive, is indispensable given the materialistic mentality of so many people today; it is a mentality that prizes comfort and has a horror of anything that smacks of mortification, renunciation or sacrifice. So every act of virtue contains within it an act of courage, of fortitude; without it we cannot remain faithful to God.
Saint Thomas teaches that this virtue is manifested in two types of acts: to do good without wavering at the prospect of the difficulties and dangers it may entail, and to resist evils and difficulties in such a way that they do not lead us into despondency. In the first case courage and audacity find their true radius of action; in the second case patience and perseverance are called for. Each day presents us with many opportunities for practicing these virtues. Overcoming our moods is one of them. Avoiding useless complaints is another. So too is persevering in our work when we feel tired. Smiling when we find it difficult to do so, correcting people when necessary, starting each job at the right time – none of these is easy. Being constant in the apostolate with our relatives and friends... even this requires a kind of bravery as well as determination.