“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Tuesday, 11 May 2021
I must confess: I am fascinated by the idea of martyrdom. People who give up their lives for faith, justice, or their friends are quite remarkable. There is something deeply moving in accounts we read of the Apostles, the Christians killed during the Roman persecutions, and during the numerous purges against religious people in places like Russia and China during the 20th Century. I think also about a medieval English archbishop like Thomas Becket of Canterbury or the modern Oscar Romero of San Salvador. Romero is easier for me to admire. Yet, though I have little sympathy for why Thomas was killed – insisting that all civil or criminal cases against clergy be tried by the Church and not the state – I cannot but admire his courage.
Indeed, I have stood in silent prayer in Canterbury Cathedral, where he was killed.
I would love to say, after all that, that I aspire to martyrdom myself. But let me be honest. I follow the school of thought that says, “I would happily be a martyr – I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”
Like most of us, the thought of martyrdom is a bit overwhelming.
But perhaps we should think of it a bit differently. The heroic martyrdom is but one form. For many people, real martyrdom is the continuing daily, active and unsung witness of service and care for others. It is often going through the daily grind of life, putting their own interests after the interests of others. The parents who care so much that they make numerous and often unseen sacrifices so that their children may enjoy better lives than them. Carers of every kind – in emergency rooms, hospitals, ambulance crews, those who work in old age homes and hospices, to name a few – who dedicate themselves to others, quite often for rather less than generous remuneration. They and so many others daily lay down their lives for their friends – and even those they do not know.
How do I lay down my life for my friends?
And do I see how so many other ‘martyrs’ around me lay down their lives – for me?