After a hearty meal, a male dinner guest and my husband reclined on the sofa where they set about solving all of the world’s problems. After a few laughs, the conversation turned serious as they speculated about the probability of coming persecutions like those already faced daily by Christians in the Middle East. They proclaimed their intentions to stand firm and fight on the side of Christ.
They spoke of Crusaders, valiant defenders of faith and freedom, martyrs and saints. Their words conjured up pictures in my mind of courageous men standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the front lines against a well-armed enemy. I took comfort in their confidence and wanted to believe that I could trust in them to remain steadfast in their convictions should the times precipitate a need.
The biblical story of the mother with seven sons also entered my thoughts (2Macc 7). Arrested together, the king demanded all seven sons and their mother eat pork, against the Mosaic Law. One by one, the sons upheld their religious conviction and refused the un-kosher command. Infuriated, the ruler lined up a schedule of torturous punishments to break their wills.
Forced to watch, the mother saw her children whipped, scourged, burned, scalped, and dismembered. Who could even begin to imagine her anguish upon hearing each child’s moans as his flesh was torn apart? Remembering how she had suckled each boy at her breast, how did she endure seeing their tongues cut out? With scarcely a moment to catch her breath in between episodes, this faith-filled mother held firm in her trust that God would take pity on them all. Reading the account, tears pooled as I tried to place myself in her shoes.
Recently, an older friend was discussing St. Maria Goretti, the young saint who lost her life in order to retain her purity and save her attacker from a mortal sin. My friend surmised that had Maria just allowed the perpetrator to have his way she could have preserved her life. The adolescent girl was not consenting to the sin, thereby, she wouldn’t have been culpable.
Had that acquaintance reflected on this biblical story, she may have applied the same logic. It wasn’t as though the sons wanted to dine on forbidden food. And what mother could be blamed for wanting to save her children from such inhumane treatment?
According to the Biblical story, having murdered all but her seventh son, the king appealed to the mother to convince her youngest to save his life. After pretending to go through the motion, she leaned in close to his ear and encouraged him to follow the path of his brothers, dying for his faith.
Thus he too died undefiled, putting all his trust in the Lord. The mother was last to die after her sons.
How great was her courage, how faithful was her perseverance, how complete was her trust. She did not waver. Like Maria Goretti, this mother’s heart was not bound to earthly treasures, but to a desire for eternal salvation for others as well as herself. Peter feared the possibility of death and faltered, but she looked death in the face and stayed the course.
My husband and our guest were so sure of themselves, but then again the apostle Peter promised Jesus that he would remain faithful, too. But when push came to shove Peter’s fear overcame his courageous intentions and he denied his Savior over and over.
Considering the men’s conversation, I must concede my weaknesses and admit my fear that in a critical moment my spiritual back bone could buckle. I want to say that I will stare evil in the eyes and hold fast like that mother. I’d prefer to believe that I could display the compassion of Maria such that I’d endure earthly suffering to protect another’s eternal reward. However, without the gifts of the Holy Spirit or the intercession of my Blessed Mother I’d likely cower.
Not long ago these stories read like ancient history, from a time far removed from the American dream. However, listening to a current news piece from The Blaze:
Glenn Beck shared a plea for prayers from an Iraqi priest whose congregation, he said, is “facing down the evils of ISIS. [He] has lost count of the number of church members he has lost,” Beck remarked. “Quote, ‘We are talking about thousands of people. They kill our children as well. They turned up to one of our church members and said if he didn’t agree to convert to Islam, they would kill all of his children.’ The next day when he phoned me, he was crying,” Beck continued. “[He] said, ‘ISIS turned up and asked his children to follow Islam and Mohammed. They didn’t ask the father. They asked the children. They said no. They loved Jesus and would never stop doing that. They shot all of his children to death.”‘
It appears such horrors could erupt at any moment on our shores. And if that current headline is not enough to convince me to drop to my knees and beg for the gift of fortitude TODAY, then the warnings and prophecies of Our Blessed Mother should certainly do the trick.
Thankfully, along with their heroic examples these mighty women and repentant Apostle left behind the recipe to follow. If I adopt their humility, complete trust, ceaseless prayers and unwavering obedience, if I seek to be last and have faith that the mountains can be moved, than I stand a greater chance of being able to join Timothy in saying,
“For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” 2Tim 4:6-8