Martyrs were a big part of the Catholicism of my youth and in fact at some level we Catholic kids aspired to die for our faith. Somehow, though, martyrs seemed to be a thing of the past.
I now see that our age has seen many martyrs — persons of conviction who suffered for, and in some cases, died because of their beliefs. Some such as Archbishop Romero are obvious. Others such as folksinger Pete Seeger are not as obvious but just as inspirational. All challenge us to examine what we believe and to truly see if we are willing to live those beliefs.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran minister during the rise of the Nazi regime. As Hitler’s discrimination toward Jews became more apparent and as established Christian religions failed to respond, Bonhoeffer spoke out. Listen to hs words as he holds his own church accountable: “The church confesses that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred, and murder, and that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims..” (Selected writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Robert Coles, Modern spiritual Masters Series, p. 105). Bonhoeffer saw it as his Christian responsibility and that of his church to speak out on behalf of Jews and others oppressed by the Nazis. He did so and in fact turned down an opportunity to escape to the safety of America to continue his efforts in Germany.
Eventually Bonhoeffer became involved in a plot to kill Hitler. The plot failed. Bonhoeffer was arrested and eventually executed days before the camp in which he was imprisoned was liberated.
Bonhoeffer talked about “cheap grace”, i.e., the kind of grace we seek in going to church but otherwise living a cautious life. How often have I gone to Mass, seeking a good feeling, not wanting to be made uncomfortable? More often than I care to admit. Cheap grace is very appealing.
I’ll leave you with a few words of challenge from Bonhoeffer: “Time lost is time in which we have failed to live a fully human life, gain experience, learn, create, enjoy, and suffer; it is time that has not been filled up, but left empty.” (Ibid, p. 108) This from a man awaiting sentencing for living his beliefs!
Reflections: 1. How often have I settled for cheap grace?
Further Reading: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Letters and Papers from Prison; Eric Metaxas Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Movies: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Pacifist, Nazi Resister (documentary)