That question in the title of this post may not be one you have ever considered. The idea of martyrdom knocking on your door may seem as far away as the ice of the South Pole, but given the times we are now living in, it may be time for all of us to begin to think about the possibility that we may have to face death for Christ. I was reading an interesting piece by Philip Kosloski in which he considers the possibility of martyrdom for all of us and it has got me thinking. The question is: are we ready?
Martyrdom is a gift, as Philip points out, not all are called to lay down their lives - physically, for Christ, though we are all called to lay down our lives for him by our adherence to the faith, our call to holiness and our duty to evangelise. However we cannot exclude the possibility that we may have to face the knife, and the decision we make at that moment is one which will be informed by how we lived lives of allegiance to Christ, the Gospel and the Church.
But what are the chances of martyrdom? Most of those being martyred are in the East - in Syria, Iraq, those territories under ISIS. However militant Islam has its adherents all over the world, as we have seen in the attacks in Paris and Denmark, so there is a chance that there are those in our country, perhaps in our own city, who may be intent on making a statement about their Muslim faith through the shedding of blood. In London, for example, in the last couple of years two people were beheaded in what seemed to be jihadist attacks - a soldier and a woman in her own home. These two individuals were no better and no worse than any of us, yet they found themselves victims of radical Islam. There is no reason why any of us might not find ourselves in a similar situation and faced with the decision to either recite the Shahadah or make the supreme sacrifice.
Many believe that will not happen to us here safely ensconced in Ireland or the West, after all the attacks in Paris, Denmark and London were freak attacks, surely? I have personally seen the apathy and complacency of people here in the West - Church-going Catholics, who think all this will go away, it will not effect them, one even laughed in my face when I mentioned the possibility that radical Islamists might strike here in Ireland. I hope such confidence does not prove to be foolhardy, just naive.
Now I am not trying to frighten people or create a sense of paranoia, but I am asking the question, that given the times we are in, are we ready to die for Christ? Are our lives conformed to Christ and his Gospel to the point that we will be able to renounce this earthly life rather than renounce our faith? Persecution and the possibility of persecution tend to sharpen our focus on our faith, what it means for our lives - and our death. The daily reports of our brothers and sisters being killed for their Christian faith might also provide us with a wake up call, get us thinking seriously about what it means to be Christian. Lent is a good time for us to take a good look at our lives in that context.
Of course, martyrdom also includes white martyrdom - a persecution, perhaps hidden, where we are gradually forced to abandon our faith or compromise it. That is already happening in the West, we see it at work in Ireland: those who remain faithful to the Christian faith who find themselves having to take a stand being punished or sued, gradually pushed to the peripheries with little or no real political representation. If the gay marriage referendum is passed here in Ireland, for example, we Christians will undoubtedly find ourselves under an increasingly more intense spotlight and our conformity will be earnestly sought. So martyrdom - white martyrdom is already here. In reality red martyrdom can often be easier, it is the long, drawn-out martyrdom of living in the midst of hostility and persecution which can difficult to endure, so let us pray for the grace to endure.