I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.[i]Anyone with fingers on the pulse of American culture can hardly be surprised at a prince of the Church predicting impending persecution. Since bloody martyrdom already devastates many countries in the world, why should the United States, the epicenter of the culture of death which exports evil all over the globe, be immune? Yes, those U.S. Catholics faithful to the teachings of the Church are likely to face imprisonment, and even bloody martyrdom, in the not too distant future.
The signs are plentiful. A rabid anti-Christian secularism infiltrates every segment of modern life both at home and abroad. It labels people of faith intolerant and hateful simply because they believe in the Ten Commandments and fundamental moral principles based on the natural law implanted in the human heart. When defending the nuclear family consisting of mother, father, and children brings accusations of hatred, it is obvious that a culture suffers from terminal madness.
A few weeks before resigning the papacy, Pope Benedict XVI addressed 50,000 in St. Peter’s Square following the Angelus. His tone was serious and he clearly warned that we will be put to the test. The Vatican Insider reported his words on the event:
“The time of testing is here. We must not use God for our own ends.... “Don’t be afraid” “to fight the evil spirit,” what is important is that we do it alongside Christ the Victor.”... We must reject the false images of the Messiah as Jesus did when faced with the temptations “the Temptor presented him with,” the most serious of which is “using God for one’s own ends.” (sic)The attack on marriage and the charade of gender ideology reflect exactly what the pope said about “false images of the Messiah ” and “using God for one’s own ends.” Is it any surprise that Satan would seduce us at our pivot points – distorting both the family and the individual? Each of us is made in the image of God and the perfect image of the Holy Trinity is the community of love between husband and wife generating new life. So, of course, it is ground zero for Satanic assault and the gender revolution is Satan’s equivalent of nuclear war.
The recent referendum in Ireland is a wake up call to Christians everywhere to join the battle and prepare for the persecution. But Catholics have little reason to trust that their shepherds will be wise generals leading the battle. Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry, Ireland created serious confusion prior to the referendum when he said Catholic voters could in good conscience vote yes for gay “marriage.” He took the Cardinal Bernardin approach of double speak: articulating the truth by calling approval of gay “marriage a “dangerous experiment” with serious ramifications for children, but essentially giving his personal approval to a yes vote.[ii] His action brings to mind the biblical warning against being lukewarm.
Sadly, betrayers like McKeown are easily found in the Church these days. Like him, many Cardinals and bishops seek to make Church doctrines, especially those relating to marriage and sexuality, irrelevant in the lives of the faithful. These Judases increasingly expose their treachery as did the German bishops recently with their April Conference Report.[iii] They use the word “pastoral” as a code-word for approving and blessing serious sins.
The confusion created is obvious as reflected in the words of Archbishop Eamon Martin, head of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In a statement disagreeing with Cardinal Raymond Burke’s remark that the referendum result was “just incredible. … Pagans may have tolerated homosexual behaviors, they never dared say this was marriage,” the archbishop urged “inoffensive language” while paying lip service to the truths of the faith.
In contrast, faithful Cardinals and bishops blow the warning trumpet as did Cardinal Raymond Burke in an interview with Catholic News Service following the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October. “…in a short period of time how much we have descended and gone away from the truth of our faith and the truth of the moral law in society in general. But the fact that these kinds of questions [on homosexuality and Communion for those in invalid marriages] are being seriously discussed in the Church should shock us all and awaken us to the need today to give a heroic witness to the truth of the indissolubility of marriage from attacks from within the Church herself.”[iv]
Cardinal Burke is not alone in his defense of the faith. Several of the German bishops raised the alarm publicly disagreeing with a report by the ZDK (Central Committee of German Catholics) that not only supported the heterodox views of Marx et al, but also called for a “reevaluation of the methods of artificial contraception, since in no other area is there to be found such a great discrepancy between the papal Magisterium and the personal conscientious decisions in the daily life of most faithful Catholics.”[v] Bishop Stefan Oster of the Diocese of Passau firmly stated on his Facebook page that, “lived sexual practice has its only legitimate place within a marriage between a man and a woman, both of whom are open to the procreation of life and both of whom have made a bond that lasts until the deah of one of the spouses.” Five other German bishops signed a letter affirming his views.[vi]
The battle is firmly engaged with the clouds of persecution darkening as they have been since Pope John Paul II made his apocalyptic statement at Fulda in 1980. "We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ … With your and my prayer it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed. How many times has the renewal of the Church sprung from blood! This time, too, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong and prepared, and trust in Christ and His Mother, and be very, very assiduous in praying the Rosary.”[vii]
The beheadings of ISIS and the bloody attack on Christians in the Sudan with the bombing of churches, schools, and hospitals pays lurid testimony to the accuracy of the future saint’s words. And he offers a partial prescription for those who wish to prepare themselves for martyrdom. Pray the rosary.
Obviously prayer is the primary weapon in the hand of the warrior/martyr – not just the rosary, but especially the Eucharist. One hero of the Eucharistic liturgy today, who believes restoration can have a great impact on the faith, is Bishop Athanasius Schneider. He believes the Church is in the “fourth great crisis” comparable to the Arian heresy when many priests and bishops embraced error becoming traitors to Christ. One of our greatest problems, he says, is a “tremendous confusion over doctrine and liturgy,” which has been ongoing “already…for 50 years.”[viii] Bishop Schneider’s identifies the most serious aspect of the upcoming synod on the family:
I think this issue of the reception of Holy Communion by the remarried will blow up and show the real crisis in the Church… anthropocentrism and the forgetting of Christo-centrism….This is the deepest evil: man, or the clergy, putting themselves in the centre when they are celebrating liturgy and when they change the revealed truth of God, for instance, concerning the Sixth Commandment and human sexuality.[ix]
Rejecting anthropocentrism and showing greater respect for the Eucharist is key to renewal according to the bishop who stated that Communion in the hand:
contributes gradually to the loss of the Catholic faith in the Real Presence and in transubstantiation….The first commandment which Christ gave us was to adore God alone. Liturgy is not a meeting of friends. It is our first task to adore and glorify God in the liturgy and also in our manner of life. From a true adoration and love of God grows love for the poor and our neighbour. It is a consequence.”[x]Bishop Schneider, a German Catholic who grew up in the former Soviet Union, experienced first hand the persecution of a godless system. He was even forced to attend classes on atheism. The bishop praises his mother and aunt for their firm adherence to the faith under persecution and their commitment to teach their children. The bishop’s zeal for the faith, especially for Jesus in the Mass, shows the stark difference between the spirit of Christ, willingness to suffer martyrdom, and the spirit of the world, heresy and apostasy.
So how does one prepare for martyrdom? Follow Jesus. He calls Himself “the way, the truth, and the life,” a description that summarizes the school of martyrs. What is “the way?” Jesus showed us after His baptism when he suffered and prayed in the desert. Fasting and prayer, especially the Eucharist, the rosary, and contemplation strengthen one to fight the temptations of Satan against materialism, power, and worldly honor. Only men and women dedicated to Christ will detach themselves from the world. To prepare, Catholics must ruthlessly root out what St. Ignatius called “inordinate attachments.” If they don’t, when martyrdom looms, they will likely walk away “sad” like the rich young man in the gospel. Someone who can’t give up the goodies of life for Christ is hardly likely to give up life itself.The second class in the school of martyrdom is truth. What good is dying for a cause if it’s a lie and a fraud. We must know and embrace the truth. That entails a serious obligation to study the doctrines of the Church, Holy Scripture, and the lives of the saints. As we internalize the fullness of the truth based on the two great commandments, we prepare ourselves for the most advanced class in the school of martyrdom, following Jesus “the life.”
This is where the rubber meets the road, where the talk must become the walk. It is no good just to know the truth; it must be lived especially today in the culture of let’s pretend and lie: that babies aren’t really babies, that deliberately killing the aged and handicapped is “mercy,” that two men or two women can contract a “marriage,” that marriage isn’t really indissoluble, etc. The culture of the lie needs the witness of the truth both through speech and action. Living the truth is risky, however. It risks hatred from those who prefer comfortable lies. It risks rejection, imprisonment, and even death – which is why preparing for martyrdom is so important.
One of the most difficult areas in which to witness to the truth today regards marriage and sexuality, especially gender ideology. Everyone is expected to dance around the golden calf of sexual freedom where everyone can define his own reality regardless of how impossible or damaging it is. All must be affirmed in their sin out of “mercy.” One homosexual, a repentant revert to the Church, Joseph Sciambra, dares to challenge that approach calling, instead, for the truth:
Like my former self, far too many homosexuals trapped (my emphasis) in the life have a plethora of straight friends and family members who give them unconditional love, never judge them, or question their initial entrance into the lifestyle; instead, they cooperate in a strange practice of “coming-out;” gushing and heralding loudly the gay person’s boundless bravery. After the hugs and kisses - none of those well-wishers follow that soul into the darkness of sexual perversity that awaits them. [xi]Sciambra offers a different way, illuminated by the light of Christ:
[E]xplain to the person the workings of the Lord in your own life: how difficult and how rewarding it is conforming one’s will to the Will of God. Have some material for them at the ready…all of the books by Fr. John Harvey are a necessity; also the shorter, but equally profound “The Courage to Be Chaste” by Fr. Benedict Groeschel. In the majority of cases - this will be your last meeting. Often, the gay person will deliver an ultimatum: accept me for who I am or I will have nothing to do with you. At that point, take them at their word and say goodbye. Tell them that they are loved, that the door is always open, but that you can not stand by and watch as they destroy themselves.[xii]He prefaces his advice with a quote from St. John Chrysostom:
As a wound, so long as it is imbedded and concealed outwardly, and runs beneath the surface, receives no attention, so also sin, as long as it is concealed, being as it were in darkness, is daringly committed in full security; but as soon as “it is made manifest,” becomes “light;” not indeed the sin itself, (for how could that be?) but the sinner. For when he has been brought out to light, when he has been admonished, when he has repented, when he has obtained pardon, have you not cleared away all his darkness? Have you not then healed his wound?[xiii]On Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles filling them with a spirit of martyrdom. They received all the gifts necessary to go out, convert the world, and live totally for Christ even to the point of accepting death rather than to ever betray Him. They graduated summa cum laude from the school of martyrdom and all but John died gruesome deaths for Christ. We too live in times that challenge our discipleship and force us to ask ourselves, “What price am I willing to pay to be faithful to my Lord?” The decision to give all requires preparation, but no one can enroll us in the school of martyrdom against our will. It’s a decision we need to make for ourselves. The question is whether we will have the sense and the courage to prepare ourselves to make that decision and persevere to the end. Pray every day for the grace to do God’s will even if to the point of death remembering that martyrdom is the quick way to heaven.
[i] Tim Drake, Cardinal George: The Myth and Reality of “I’ll Die in My Bed”, National Catholic Register, April 17, 2015, http://www.ncregister.com/blog/tim-drake/the-myth-and-the-reality-of-ill-die-in-my-bed
[ii] Thaddeus Baklinski, “Irish bishop: Catholics can back gay ‘marriage’ in good conscience,” LifeSiteNews, May 20,2015, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/irish-bishop-catholics-can-back-gay-marriage-in-good-conscience
[iii] See Maike Hickson’s article, “Is the Catholic Church in Germany in Danger of Apostasy?”, The Wanderer, May 28, 2015, p.1.
[iv] Matthew McCusker, “Does Pope Francis Support the Kasper Proposal?”, LifeSiteNews, May 12, 2015, https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/does-pope-francis-support-the-kasper-proposal-what-really-happened-at-the-s
[v] Hickson, p. 7A.
[vii] Pope John Paul II, “The Apocalyptic Vision of John Paul II”, Les Femmes, Nov. 15, 2013, http://lesfemmes-thetruth.blogspot.sk/2013/11/the-apocalyptic-vision-of-john-paul-ii.html
[viii] Sarah Atkinson, “Bishop Athanasius Schneider: ‘We are in the fourth great crisis of the Church’”, Catholic Herald (UK), June 6, 2014, http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/2014/06/06/bishop-athanasius-schneider-we-are-in-the-fourth-great-crisis-of-the-church/
[xi] Joseph Sciambra, “Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner: How Catholics Can Save Gay Lives”, How Our Lord Jesus Christ Saved Me blog, May 22, 2015, http://www.josephsciambra.com/2015/05/guess-whos-not-coming-to-dinner-how.html