||Martyrdom Isn't as Easy as it Looks|
If we want to follow Cassie Bernall's example, we have to get our lives in order now.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Cassie Bernall lately.
For those of you who’ve spent the last couple of months hiding under a rock, Cassie Bernall is the Columbine victim who was shot dead after answering, in the affirmative, the question "Do you believe in God?" The story of her courageous stand of faith has been spreading far and wide. Web sites are popping up. Articles are being written. This month’s Reader’s Digest even featured a story about her.
In my discussions on the subject of Cassie and her martyrdom, I generally find two different strains of thinking. The first are the people who say, "Well, it was a really nice, brave, holy thing she did. But it wasn’t really necessary. God wouldn’t really have cared if she had said ‘no’. After all, I’m sure He would understand that her life was at stake." I have to admit that, at times in my life, I have bought into this kind of thinking. God is reasonable, isn’t He? And He wants us to be happy. I know he doesn’t want us to lie, but it seems like a little lie at a time like that would be understandable. He’d know that we believed in Him. And what does it really matter what other people think, anyway? But then I began to study Scripture a little more seriously, and a different picture began to emerge. Christ gave pretty specific instructions about how He expected His followers to behave. He told them that if they denied Him before men, He would deny them before His Father. Peter’s threefold denial of Christ was regarded as a particularly heinous sin. Peter, upon realizing what he had done, didn't simply say, "Well, you know that I love you, and that’s all that matters, right? And besides, they were going to kill me." Actually, he couldn’t exactly get to Jesus at that particular moment -- He was already being crucified. So Peter wept, bitterly. He knew his denial exposed the weakness of his love.
Why would Christ expect something so unreasonable of us, anyway? I mean, if somebody I love was asked at gunpoint if he loved me, I hope he would lie. I don’t care. I would just want him to live.
But Christ is different.
You see, we're put here on this earth for a reason -- to spread the gospel and the love of Christ. That’s it. We’re here and we’re His. And, most importantly, we’re only here for a while. What we do during that while will determine where we’re going to spend our real lives -- the life that never ends, the life that is to come. If we choose Him and follow Him, then, after death, we’ll have Him for ever and ever. If, on the other hand, we choose the goods of this life over Him, then we’ll get our wish, and after death we won’t have him.
Martyrdom brings that choice home in the most immediate, most concrete way possible. "Which do your choose? What is more important to you -- this life with all of the fun it offers, or this God of yours?" It’s where the "rubber hits the road." It’s easy to say that we love God more than anything else in our lives, but it’s not so easy to prove it when the chips are down.
Which leads to the second response I find to Cassie’s martyrdom. I saw this most clearly at a conference last weekend, where the speaker was asking a group of teens if they are ready to die for their faith. They were ready. "Bring it on! We love God and we want to die for Him." I have to admit, it was gratifying to see a thousands teenaged heads bobbing up and down. But I had to wonder. I’ve said that myself on more than one occasion, particularly in the wake of the Columbine shootings. Would I die for my faith? Of course I would. It only stands to reason. This life isn’t worth nearly as much as the life that is to come. I couldn’t be intimidated into denying my faith by a punk with a rifle. Of course I’d acknowledge Christ.
But let’s get serious. I can’t even follow a diet. My doctor tells me that, if I want to be truly healthy, I need to avoid certain foods. "Of course I will," I tell him. I mean, it only stands to reason. I want to feel good and have more energy, so it’s no big deal to say no to some of the foods I like sometimes." I’m motivated. I’m planning to offer it up. I’ll even help get souls into heaven with my diet.
But then I walk into my office and somebody tells me there are Krispy Kreme donuts in the kitchen. And I fold, I crumble like a dry coffee cake. I polish off not one but several of those cream-filled beauties, and then I hate myself and vow to do better tomorrow.
"Willpower" is not my middle name.
Do I really think I’d do any better with a gun stuck in my face? How can I possibly believe that I could muster the courage to renounce my very life when I have such a hard time renouncing ice cream and Milky Ways?
This is why all of the saints stressed asceticism. They warned us over and over that, unless we got used to denying our bodies some of the little creature comforts, we’d have a hard time mustering what it takes when our faith called for some real self-denial. This is the benefit of giving things up for Lent and offering up our little sufferings every day. If we don’t, we’ll be in big trouble when the chips are down.
Don’t underestimate the value of martyrdom. The Church was built on the blood of martyrs. God know that it’s the ultimate sacrifice, and He rewards it. For the martyrs themselves, there is instant entry into Paradise. And for those who are left, there are graces flooded upon the Church. Look at Cassie Bernall. Her death has cast a spotlight onto young faith, the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations. Religion is being discussed in the public forum again. People -- even politicians -- are acknowledging the importance of faith in young lives. We’re all turning to God in a ways we hadn’t before.
And we own so much of it to Cassie, and to her truly heroic faith.