The Martyred Lamb.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ – Philippians 3:8
The Christian religion sprung up from the blood of martyrs. “At practically all periods of history, martyrdom has seen blood shed by priests, monks and nuns. What can we say of the martyrs of the 21st century! They were more numerous in this century than the nineteen which preceded them. Most people do not know that the Spanish Civil War, the “Satanic War” according to Pius XII, alone saw the shedding of blood of 12 bishops, 4,172 secular priests, 2,365 monks and 283 nuns.” (Heidemann, pg. 226). Every one of Christ’s apostles met a martyr’s death save for John, the Beloved, who died in exile. Each saw unfolding before them the call: “Take up your cross and follow me.” Today, the priest also hears this call. As he takes part in the priesthood of Christ, he also takes part in the victimhood of the cross. For on the cross, priest and victim were the same. By belonging totally to God, having resigned his life, ambitions and will on the day of ordination, the priest lives as a sacrificial lamb.
One of the reasons why priests capture the fascination, and ire, of the modern world is that their priorities are immaterial. Rather than own a nice car, they would forgive a sinner. Their work is long and for little pay. They wear the same, simple uniform every day. Certainly they do not accrue popularity or honors. The priesthood is a vocation laden with the stigmas of scandal and shame. A bad priest is worse than a devil. His stain spreads over them all. And when a priest keeps his vows perfectly, his celibacy is grossly misunderstood. They are by all accounts lowly, despised men. They embody the Psalmist when he says “You, O Lord are my inheritance.”
The most baffling thing about the priest over time, has been his willingness to forsake even life, in order to save souls. Like St. Xavier and the North American martyrs, the may traverse harsh lands, face strange cultures, danger on every side, to preach the Gospel. Like St. Damien Molokai, they may descend into quarters of poverty and disease in order to heal broken souls. They may even face opposition from their own as did St John of the Cross and imprisonment as did the apostle Paul. Some will indeed bathe the altar in blood, as did the modern-day Archbishop Oscar Romero.
It seems so natural, almost right, in our consciousness for a priest to become a martyr. Not that we aren’t abhorred by the brutality of his killers or the act of murder but we are somehow comforted that one who was to live like Christ should die like Christ. Men are inspired by the idea of having something good and true to die for. Anything worth loving is worth fighting for and it is proven time and time again that no greater love is there than for a man to lay down his life for a friend.
Whether bloody or un-bloody, priestly martyrdom forms a perfect image of the cross. Their lives exist as ransom for others. No priest is above His Master. If he does his task well, he will suffer- and suffer greatly. Such foolishness to waste one’s life! The world cries out. It defies all logical sense!
This is because love, simply put, is foolhardy. Loves does all things and becomes all things for the good of the beloved. Everything else is viewed as dross, unnecessary-alone for acquiring the beloved. The priest’s beloved is the Church: those who are the people of God and those who will be the people of God. Just as a father cares for his children, both born and unborn- loves them before he knows them, the priest risks all to spread Holy Church to the bounds of humanity. Like the lamb, he goes to the slaughter, silently, perhaps even gladly, knowing his blood and tears sow life for Holy Church and their children.
The priest is a man for whom the world is not enough. Only heavenly things can truly satisfy him. If he were to try filling his heart with worldly things, he will soon find misery. He will realize he is not made for them. Christ is his soul and his heart. Christ is his ultimate joy. Leading others to Christ, feeding others Christ, this is the fulfillment of his wildest desires. Of himself he could not love. His poor human heart is shrunken, feeble and cold. Rather it is the Divine Love burning within that prompts him to cast aside the world as a worn garment, to even cast aside his own life.
To be continued in: Mary’s Lamb