I recently attended the Kairos North American Winter Conference held in Columbus, Ohio, USA. The theme was "Love for the World." We talked much about martyrdom. We talked about what it means to give a complete "Yes" to the Lord.
One of my favorite examples of someone who gave a definitive "Yes" to the Lord is Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of Luke, we see the angel Gabriel appear to her, exhort her not to be afraid, tell her that God favors her, and that he wants her to be the mother of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And in response to these revelations, Mary says "Yes." George Weigel, a Christian writer, has made four observations about Mary's "Yes" which I have considered and been challenged by:
- She did not keep her options open
- She did not negotiate
- She did not have an 'exit' strategy
- She did not ask for a contract.
This would-be pink martyr, Amanda, was a university student studying music performance. She thought for a long time that her vocation was to be a professional musician. But when she heard the Lord calling her deeper into life with him, she dropped out of school after her second year, and never looked back: her one desire was to seek God and give herself to him. Those closest to her were confused and upset by Amanda’s sudden loss of interest in music, and many didn’t understand her thirst for God. They thought she was confused and was wasting her God-given talent. But Amanda wasn’t confused. She just felt God was calling her to live single for him, and so after stopping her music studies she prayed throughout the next year about what faith community she was to join and how she was to express her call to celibacy. She has responded to God’s call to live single for the Lord and now lives in a cloistered monastery with other celibate women. Like the other sisters in her order, she has vowed that she will not go outside those walls and will spend her days and nights in service and in prayer for those around her life and those whom her faith community has agreed to pray for.
There was nothing fancy about Amanda’s everyday life. But the way in which she lived it was graceful, grace-filled. I knew Amanda for almost three years, but got to know her particularly well for two weeks while I was staying as a guest in a Christian discernment household. What she did were things such as: pray, laugh, speak of the Lord, read Scripture, serve her housemates, be my friend, babysit, sing, slide down banisters, and go for walks. She also loved to drink coffee, three cups in the morning, and three cups at night. Now I like to tell myself that you can be a martyr and drink your share of coffee too! During those two weeks, I observed Amanda’s everyday life carefully, and I continue to be inspired by what I saw: a simple, normal life lived in light of supernatural grace.
For me, Amanda is a martyr, what some of us might call a "walking saint." Some wonder at the idea of living one's life in a cloister, within walls, set apart from the world. Some people say, "What a waste! She just sits inside those walls praying, and she could be changing the world!" But Amanda knew well enough that even if she weren’t living in a cloister, if she were in the world, she would seek to live fully for Christ in whatever way he called her to serve him. Amanda knew that she couldn’t change the world – only Jesus Christ can change and love the world. She has chosen, as we all have a chance to do, whether in the world or in a monastery, to give her life to God and let herself be hidden in him. Amanda knew she had gifts –she didn’t go to a monastery because she thought she couldn’t do much else with her life. Amanda’s joyful confidence in God's love for her was the foundation of her life and, having experienced God’s love for her, knew it was enough for her.
At the Kairos Winter Conference Women's Session, we talked about how full confidence in and knowledge of God's love for us are the keys to giving that love to others. We can become martyrs because we know that God’s love frees us to love the world. This is the core of John’s message in his First Letter, "Perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). While I don’t think God is calling me to the cloistered life, I have already learned a lot about discipleship from the example of Amanda’s life and from the message I heard at the Kairos Winter Conference, which reminded me, once again, that we are all called to be martyrs in our everyday lives by dying to ourselves so that we can live for Christ, so that Christ can be fully alive in us and in the world! Perhaps, if God wills it, some of us may witness to Christ by shedding our blood for him as well, and thus become the kind of pink martyr Amanda yearns to be.
So: Is martyrdom hard, intense work? Is it nearly impossible to be a living martyr in the twenty-first century? I suppose it could feel so at times, and Satan would like us to think it really is. But my cloistered friend Amanda, my brothers and sisters in Kairos, and the Lord himself, who says "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light," all remind me that martyrdom is an expression of love – a response to and a reflection of Love Himself. And Love Himself says to us, just as he said through Gabriel to Mary, "Do not be afraid, for the favor of the Lord is upon you." We are God's children, and we need not be afraid, for his favor is upon us.