Listening to the homily during the 4 p.m. Mass, our priest gently reminded us that white martyrdom was coming to a close; soon to be replaced by the red. He included the viral quote of Cardinal Francis George of the archdiocese of Chicago: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square” This was not the first time I have heard this quote and, as usual, I felt ill when I heard it. I glanced at my almost 15 yr old son who was joyfully serving the Mass, in close proximity to our priest. I leaned over the head of my youngest, only six yrs old, and deeply inhaled the fragrance of her freshly washed hair and kissed her forehead while I strove to push away the horror filled images of children, men and women, fathers and mothers, grandparents, siblings, daughters and sons lined before the guns. Images of the past and present commingled in my mind’s eye. Nazis murdering Jews and Catholics for their faith; ISIS raping, torturing and murdering Christians for refusing to deny their faith; and less recently than the horrors of ISIS but closer to us in time than WWII – the martyrs of the Cristero war.
I thought of my married children raising their own families and my young adult children discerning their vocations and whether they are called to married life or to the religious. I wanted to grab them all and whisper in their ears: “DON’T MARRY! What are you thinking?” I especially wanted to admonish my sons to GO! Run to the seminary and become priests – and work towards saving the souls already in existence. Don’t bring more innocent lives into the world only to be martyred. Or worse, much worse, have their souls stolen by the secular world that eats away the heart of society, spinning lies of deceit, intolerance and despair.”
When the homily was over, I looked at the youngest two of my thirteen children as they participated in the schola and felt great sorrow. I thought of the children I raised who have left the Church or are currently struggling with the teachings of the Church – which are indeed hard. Jesus never promised that following Him would be easy: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled. I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! They will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)
Struggling against the deep sorrow that my heart was buried under, I tried to pray for all that I usually pray for throughout the Mass: my children, their children, my siblings, parents and the lost souls of this world and in purgatory. I simply could not focus and I recalled my post that was due in a few hours. I had planned on writing about the language of love as expressed through flowers. With memes like “I feel like a war between the confederates and a skittle factory has broken out” popping up all over the internet, I somehow felt that this idea was simply too frivolous. I thought about more serious topics such as The Four Marks of the Church- a topic my now 21 year old daughter wrote about when she was fourteen. I decided to look up her article after Mass and maybe use it as a basis to talk about how we know the Catholic Church is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith and how important it is that we can explain this to others.
Still, I found myself struggling with the fear drilled inside of me at the thought of red martyrdom. While the beautiful litany of the Mass was being sung around me, I fought against this fear and pondered deeply about what it was that I was really afraid of. Dying? Dying for Christ? No – because if I was ever actually killed for my faith I would be certain of Heaven. I was really more afraid of suffering and more than that – afraid of my children suffering. Still Christ, as Father Harden reminds us in his paper Maryrdom and Suffering, does require suffering of us. “But we also believe that what Christ did by dying for us on the cross requires that we die on our cross by cooperating with the graces that Jesus won for our redemption.” He could not have been more clear. He told us, “If you wish to be my disciples, take up your cross and follow me.” We must cooperate with Christ’s grace if we wish to join Him in eternity. He was crucified by shedding His blood. We must be crucified by shedding our blood in witness to our love.”
This was not the first time I had struggled with this fear of martyrdom, of suffering. I made the decision long ago to turn off the news, turn off the TV, and stop worrying about what I can’t change and focus on what I could change – my own heart. I needed to focus on that and work on influencing my childrens’ hearts. Again, I came to the conclusion that faith is the only answer to this fear of suffering. All I can do is live one day at a time; strengthening my faith through prayer, acts of love and charity while also remembering to offer up my little sufferings without complaint so that I might grow stronger in God’s graces so that, if one day I am asked to answer the call of red, I will be able to.
When I sat down in front of my monitor I had no idea what direction this post would go in – but I knew it would start with Cardinal George’s quote. However, first I needed to research his quote and so I did. What I found amazed me. There is a line, a line of profound hope that has been lost in its viral journeys about the internet world. Here is his quote in its entirety (and thank you to Tim Drake who hunted it down):
“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” Cardinal Francis George of the archdiocese of Chicago (Please consider reading the whole article.)
I would like to close with an explanation as to why I chose a rainbow for my sole picture for this article. In the old Testament it states in Genesis 6:5-8 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord saw the wickedness of the humankind on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with the animals and the creeping things and the birds of the air for I am sorry that I Have made them.’ But Noah found favour in the sight of the Lord.”
Following this was the great flood as described in Genesis 7 – 8. Eventually the flood waters recede and God promises never to flood the earth again. Genesis 9:12-13 “God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
Every time I see a rainbow, whether as God’s bow in the clouds or as as symbol for something I do not agree with, I will remember God’s promise and take hope in His word and trust in Him. The rainbow will never cease to be a beautiful thing in my eyes and I will always see God’s hand in it.
Christi Gareis is a homeschooling mother of thirteen, with eight children still at home. Her youngest child can boast that she was an aunt before she was born. Christi has been blogging since 2005 and has three blogs. In addition to blogging, Christi has been published on Catholicmom.com as well as in CCL’s magazine Family Foundations. She also wrote the section on How to ‘Prepare Your Child for First Reconciliation’ in the book '101 Stories of Reconciliation' by Sister Patricia Proctor.