Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lessons of confidence and courage from the saints in the face of death

In the aftermath of Ash Wednesday, when we consider our dustiness, and that to the dust that our mortal bodies will return, I'd like to suggest two articles that take those themes into consider, in light of the Gospel and in light of the heroic virtues found in the lives of the saints.

The first is Dying With the Confidence of a Saint... and here's a snippet:

Our society doesn’t like to think much about death. Yet, there is much to be gained, as a Christian, by reflecting on our death, and about our final destiny. This idea of uniting our death with the death of Jesus is the key to facing our own death with hope and, even, joy and peace. 
The saints show us the way. 
St. Therese of Lisieux, who died of disease as a young woman in her twenties, said this:  “I am not dying. I am entering eternal life.” 
Note the boldness of her statement: she is not dying!  She is merely passing through death on the way to the next phase of life! Was St. Therese being merely sentimental or foolish? No!  She saw the truth of this reality, and saw the opportunity to remind her loved ones of that fact. Recall that the Church underscores such truth by making Therese a Doctor of the Church. Her statement is found in the Catechism (Cf. CCC 1011.) 
St. Therese, and other saints like her, had a rich and vivid faith in the promise of everlasting life that we must strive to imitate. Death is only a threshold; it is not an end. 
St. Teresa of Avila is another great example. She, too, is matter of fact: “I want to see God and, in order to see him, I must die.” (Cf. CCC 1011.)  
If you read St. Paul’s epistles, you will again encounter this lively faith in Christ that gives positive meaning to Christian death: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil 1:21.)”
You can read the rest here.

The second is taken from my archives, and it honors the saint that is honored in today's liturgy, Polycarp: An Unusual Name, A Remarkable Story...  here's an excerpt:

At the stake Polycarp seizes the opportunity to pray aloud before all the spectators. His 86 year-old heart swells as he calls upon the true God.
"O Lord God Almighty… I bless You because You have granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Your Christ unto resurrection of eternal life...
May I be received… in Your presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You did prepare and reveal it beforehand, and have accomplished it, You that art the faithful and true God. (Martyrdom 14: 1-2.)
God answers Polycarp’s prayer in a most unusual way.

When he had offered up the Amen and finished his prayer, the firemen lighted the fire. And, a mighty flame flashing forth, we to whom it was given to see, saw a marvel, yea and we were preserved that we might relate to the rest what happened.
The fire, making the appearance of a vault, like the sail of a vessel filled by the wind, made a wall round about the body of the martyr; and it was there in the midst, not like flesh burning, but like a loaf in the oven or like gold and silver refined in a furnace. For we perceived such a fragrant smell, as if it were the wafted odor of frankincense or some other precious spice.
So at length the lawless men, seeing that his body could not be consumed by the fire, ordered an executioner to go up to him and stab him with a dagger. And when he had done this, there came forth [a dove and] a quantity of blood, so that it extinguished the fire; and all the multitude marveled that there should be so great a difference between the unbelievers and the elect.  (Martyrdom, 15:1 – 16:1.)
Imagine experiencing the satisfying aroma of bread baking in the oven when you should be observing a hideous death… imagine one man’s life being consumed by the Eucharistic majesty even as he prepares to breathe his last. 

Everything about Polycarp’s life declared: “I am a Christian.”

For years, scholars have written of the parallels between the suffering of Jesus’ passion and the final hours of Polycarp’s life… the prayer for the disciples, the final meal, the arrest, the interrogation, and the many people calling for his death. It is all of a piece in the will of God.

Tertullian, writing in the years following Polycarp’s death, declared, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.” 

The death of martyrs did not put an end to Christianity as some opponents had hoped. It only served to fuel the faith of Christians for generations to come, whose sustenance and hope remains in the Eucharist to this day.

You can read more, here.

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