If you only knew what makes for peace. (Luke 19:42)
One of the genuinely heartbreaking ironies of our time: “martyrdom” and hope.
Every two years we read at Holy Mass the accounts of the heroes of the Maccabean revolt. The fidelity of the Maccabean martyrs inspires us. But Mattathias, and the Zealots who imitated him, did not fully reveal the face of the Father. Open impiety and irreligion moved Mattathias to kill. But open impiety and irreligion moved Christ to submit to suffering.
We do not know what makes for peace. But Christ teaches us. Holding fast to “the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising not its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2)
“The joy set before Him.” The fulfillment for which we were made, the kingdom of true happiness–it cannot be anything less than God. Christ teaches us that this kingdom, this happiness is real. We can, should, and must hope for it.
“He endured the cross.” Christ and the martyrs of Christ do not do violence. They endure violence. The holy martyrs whose memory the Church keeps alive through all the vagaries of history–they counted the joy to come more precious than this passing pilgrim life. So they submitted themselves to an unjust death.
We can and do say that the martyrs have held the world “in contempt.” But a true martyr’s contempt for the world aims only at the falsity and emptiness of a shallow life. In no way does this contempt move a true martyr to acts of violence. To the contrary, a martyr patiently and calmly awaits the coming of the Lord, living a genuinely spiritual life in this world. He becomes a martyr only when violence finds him.
Now, if we think that only jihadists make a mockery of the word martyr, then we deceive ourselves.
The Catholic Patriarch of Syria said yesterday: “It is inconceivable to think that [ISIS] can be defeated with air raids: this is a big lie.”
Practically every time we Western powers drop a bomb from the sky, over the land where our father Abraham once walked–every time we do that, we make real martyrs. Innocent bystanders, patiently waiting on God, meaning no harm to anyone, get killed. ISIS is a bunch of unbelievable bad guys, to be sure. And the people who drop bombs that incur “collateral damage” as a matter of course: Also bad guys.
Christ teaches what makes for peace. Staring calmly at death, not to bring it about, but to accept it. Because the joy set before us is greater.