1. a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.
"saints, martyrs, and witnesses to the faith"
1. the death or suffering of a martyr.
Perhaps the most common definition is the one offered by Merriam Webster: “A Martyr is a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion.”
According to Wikipedia:
A martyr (Greek: "witness") is someone who suffers persecution and death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce, or refusing to advocate a belief or cause as demanded by an external party. (yes, Martyr comes from the Greek for Witness)
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude. "Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God." (St. Ignatius of Antioch) CCC#2472
I don’t know how many of us nowadays aspire to martyrdom. I know I don’t. And I am amazed at saints like Jean de Brebeuf, who wrote:
“For two days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments the martyrs suffered.
I vow to you, Jesus my savior, that as far as I have the strength I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom, if some day you in your infinite mercy should offer it to me, your most unworthy servant. I bind myself in this way so that for the rest of my life I will have neither permission nor freedom to refuse opportunities of dying and shedding my blood for you, unless at a particular juncture I should consider it more suitable for your glory to act otherwise at that time. Further, I bind myself to this so that, on receiving the blow of death, I shall accept it from your hands with the fullest delight and joy of spirit. For this reason, my beloved Jesus, and because of the surging joy which moves me, here and now I offer my blood and body and life. May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me."
As we know, St. Jean de Brebeuf died a horrible, horrible death. In fact, between 1642 and 1649 eight Jesuits were killed in North America after brutal torture by the Iroquois.
St. Jean de Brebeuf was killed on March 16, 1648.
This week, fifth Sunday in Lent, the Gospel reading is about the grain of wheat that must die in order to bear fruit. And so, I am thinking about martyrdom.
It was St. Ignatius of Antioch who, before his martyrdom wrote: “I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”
Ignatius was killed by wild beasts at the Circus Maximus in Rome in AD 108.
Perhaps the real reason why I am thinking about martyrdom is because I was just in El Salvador with Sebastian Gomes and the The Francis Impact
crew working on a story on the influence of the Church in that country’s metal mining ban.
On March 12, 1977, another Jesuit, Fr. Rutilio Grande, was killed by machinegun fire while he drove towards his hometown parish of El Paisnal for a St. Joseph Novena Mass. An elderly man, 72-year-old, Manuel Solorzano and 16-year-old Nelson Lemus, who were getting a ride with the priest, were also killed by the government-sponsored military unit.
Memorial at the site where Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ was assassinated.
According to Mons. Jose Luis Escobar Alas, Archbishop of San Salvador, Fr. Grande was killed because he responded to the call. The only ideology he preached was the ideology of Christianity: That of the Kingdom. He announced the Good News and denounced sin. He was incarnated in the reality of the country and he was sacramentally committed. (From the 2017 Pastoral Letter titled, “You will also testify, because you have been with me since the beginning” —C.f., Jn. 15:27, written on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the deaths of Servant of God Rutilio Grande, SJ and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero.)
They say that Fr. Grande always carried a consecrated Host with him. He explained that it was so that “when they kill me, because I have been threatened, I ask the Lord to allow me to die with Him in my mouth.”
His wish was not possible at the time of his martyrdom. Archbishop Escobar says, “He did not take the Body of Christ at that moment, but his whole body was the consecrated Host in the hands of Christ. There is no doubt: Fr. Rutilio was a Eucharistic man, sacramentally committed. His life, full of all the fruits that I have explained here, is witness to it; his passion and martyrial death.”
That night 41 years ago, Monseñor Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador at the time, drove to El Paisnal as soon as he heard of his friend’s death. Archbishop Romero had been on the side of the poor and the oppressed in El Salvador, but that night may have empowered him to take a firm stand against the abuses that were happening against the people of El Salvador.
This stance led to his own martyrdom on March 24, 1980. As he was celebrating the evening Mass in the chapel of the Hospital de la Divina Providencia, where he lived, a government-hired hit man shot him, at the time of the Offertory.
The Gospel reading that day: John 12:20-32, "Unless a grain of wheat falls..."
Chapel where Mons. Romero was killed. He was standing behind the altar just before the preparation of the gifts.
That Mass was never finished. Mons. Romero was the offering.
In total there are 17 priests, 4 religious women, 2 bishops and one seminarian that are considered martyrs by Archbishop Escobar of El Salvador’s civil war. Like Fr. Grande and Mons. Romero, they were killed simply for proclaiming good news to the poor and freedom for prisoners. They were killed for giving sight for the blind, helping set the oppressed free.
I guess that’s also why Jesus was killed.
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
What does it mean to be a martyr? I guess it means to give it all. I don’t know if these courageous men, even St. Jean de Brebeuf, wanted to die. No one wants to die.
On February 25, 1980, one month before his assassination, Oscar Romero completed a spiritual retreat and wrote in his diary:
I find it hard to accept a violent death, which in these circumstances is very possible... I place my life under the loving providence of God and accept with faith in Him my death no matter how hard it is... I am content and confident in knowing with certainty that in Him are my life and my death, that even despite my sins, in Him I have placed my trust..."
No one wants to suffer. We are not being asked to go looking for suffering. We are asked to give our lives to Christ, to pick up our Cross and follow Him. Monseñor Romero often told those closest to him that he was afraid. Of course he was afraid. But he didn’t back down. He did what he had to do because he was sacramentally committed. He had to follow Christ.
And when we follow Christ, it leads to the Cross.
, let's look at what martyrdom has to do with being a witness.
Mural in a park in the town of El Paisnal commemorating Mons. Romero and Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ.
For more on El Salvador and Archbishop Romero, visit our Romero page
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org @deaconpedrogm