HIS PAST YEAR, I have been reading aloud each evening, with my family, the traditional Roman Martyrology. It has been astonishing to learn about such a host of saints, particularly the ancient martyrs who suffered incredible, unspeakable torments for love of Jesus Christ. Here are some examples, taken almost at random from the Martyrology:
October 28. … At Rome, St Anastasia the Elder, Virgin, and Cyril, Martyrs. The former was bound with chains in Valerian’s persecution under the prefect Probus, smitten with blows and tortured with fire and scourges, but since she remained immovable in her confession of Christ, her breasts were cut off, her nails torn out, her teeth broken, her hands and feet cut off, and being beheaded, adored with the jewels of so many sufferings, she passed to her Spouse; but Cyril, who merely offered her water when she begged for it, received martyrdom as his reward.
December 14. … In Cyprus, the birthday of blessed Spiridion, Bishop, who was one of those confessors whom Galerius Maximian condemned to the mines, after tearing out his right eye and severing the tendons of his left knee. …
December 30. … Marcellus and Exuperantius were first of all stretched on the rack, then grievously beaten with scourges, afterwards torn with hooks and roasted by the burning of their sides and so fulfilled martyrdom. …
Reading accounts like this has challenged me again and again: Do I love the Lord so much that I would be willing to do and to suffer what they did and suffered? Yes, martyrdom is truly a grace from God, a gift that utterly surpasses the boundaries of human possibility; but we also have to be prepared for receiving that grace, and we can live our daily lives in such a way as to make it harder for ourselves to be courageous when the time comes.
THEN, I GOT TO THINKING about the daily hardships of life to which nearly everyone was accustomed only a hundred years ago, such as the lack of running water, the lack of electricity, the scarcity of comforts, and the need to work hard on the land, day after day, just to stay clothed and fed. When our family reads aloud the Little House on the Prairie books, or medieval historical novels, the toughness and vigor of these people come across loud and clear. They are more ready to labor, more able to suffer; they are stronger characters, all around, than we moderns tend to be.
This got me thinking about what a future persecution might look like, and whether Catholics in America (or any Western country) would be ready to face it, or whether our apostasy would come quick and cheap. In spite of the Obama administration’s anti-Catholicism, few in government have simply thrown out or directly attacked the language and policy of religious liberty. Those who want to destroy the Catholic Church have to find devious and indirect ways of doing it; they cannot simply go out and burn down churches and shoot Catholics in the street, the way the Islamic militants in Syria go around beheading Christians and selling their blood. (That kind of thing may come to us someday, but we’re not there quite yet.) But our government is well practiced in the most subtle and “legal” way to weaken the Church—namely, to draw away her members by seducing them with worldly goods or motivating them by social pressures and financial penalties.
So, what would happen if the next administration announced: “All American citizens must pay an abortion tax that will be used directly and exclusively for funding abortion services. Citizens who refuse to pay this tax will have the electricity, gas, and water cut off from their properties.” No other penalty, no further persecution; just those serious inconveniences, a lack of creature comforts we all take for granted.
What would Catholics do? Would we choose privation, discomfort, inconvenience, hardship, in order to uphold the law of God—or would we cave in without a second thought, send our checks to the IRS, and keep those fruits of the free market pulsing and pumping, while our money funds the murder of innocents in secret?
Are we ready for the coming privations and persecutions? Be assured, they are coming; some are already here. Whole career paths have already been cut off or have begun to be impossible to navigate for Catholics who still have a conscience. Obamacare has shown that the government is quite prepared to force everyone to sponsor immorality. How far will it go? Soon the clergy will be challenged for refusing to witness so-called gay marriages. Even the Church will not be given freedom regarding whom is hired as an employee. Employees will not be able to ask for time off on Sundays and Holy Days. It is only a matter of time before being a Catholic at all will involve renouncing much that the world considers important and necessary.
Are we ready?