As we read at Holy Mass today, the mother of the Maccabean martyrs said to her sons:
I do not know how you came into existence in my womb… Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who… brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.
In other words, the mother had the courage to pray for the martyrdom of her sons.
St. John de Brébeuf suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Iroquois, in what is now Ontario, Candada. He had prayed for martyrdom. Every Jesuit, and everyone who prays the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, prays to lose all honor in this world, and be thought a fool—out of loyalty to the Great Fool, Jesus Christ.
In A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More did not pray for, or seek, martyrdom. He had a family; he loved his family. And his family wanted him home with them, not in jail–and certainly not dead. More’s wife and daughter laid guilt trips on Thomas for ‘playing the hero,’ in his dealings with King Henry. In the end, More suffered martyrdom not for something he said, but for his silence.
On the other hand, the Maccabean mother set aside her desire to have the earthly company of her sons. She reckoned, correctly, that the Lord had given her her sons in the first place. So He could give them back to her, in the next life–provided they stayed faithful.
The mother did St. John de Brébeuf one better. A devoted servant of God, with no dependents, might pray for his or her own martyrdom, if it should serve God’s glory. An even-more-devoted servant of God prays for the martyrdom of her beloved children, should it serve God’s glory.