A martyr is a person who chooses to suffer or die rather than renounce their faith in God – this is called “red martyrdom.” Martyrs offer their suffering and life, not because they want to suffer and die but because by choosing to do so, they offer themselves in a similar manner as Christ, our Lord, did so long ago.
It is a type of sainthood to offer our lives like this, to be willing to part even with our earthly lives if required. But not every martyr is killed. Saint Jerome used the term “white martyrdom” for those of us who die a natural death after a lifetime of fighting for our faith, the annihilation of the desires of self, and the acceptance of the life of Christ alive in all that we do.
“I made the perpetual vow of my personality to our Lord Jesus Christ through the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, under the patronage of Saint Benedict: nothing for me and anyone, and asking for the essential grace, nothing by me.” As if to say: “Everything through him, with him, and in him.” (Saint Peter Julian Eymard, cf. NR 44,199)
The Gift of Self that Saint Peter Julian Eymard describes is such that our offering is in what will cease to be, the death from the self that we are leaving behind, so that released from it, we may become a new creation, purified by the most blessed sacrifice of the Lamb. One with Christ. This is our white martyrdom call.
It is not for us to actively search for the red martyrdom, but we pray to our Lord for the gifts of courage and fortitude if we are ever asked to lay down our lives for our love of Christ.
Let us pray:
Lord, so great is our love for you that even though we walk in a world where speaking your name can mean certain death, your faithful still speak it and speak it all the louder. Help us work for a world where all may speak their creeds and pray their prayers without fear of violence. Hear the prayers of those who abide with you in dangerous times and in dark valleys and who die with your name on their lips. Draw them quickly to your side where they might know eternal peace. Amen. (Prayer for Christian Martyrs)