Lessons from Recent History: Prepare for Martyrdom

In late 1944 the American Hierarchy issued the following resolution [condensed] expressing support for the freedom of Eastern Europeans when the Allies finally prevailed:

“The bishops of the United States in Christian solidarity share the sufferings, misery, and fears of their brother bishops, the clergy, the religious and the faithful of all the war-torn countries of Europe… They recall how centuries ago the Western Slavs, later joined by the Lithuanians, associated themselves with the peoples of Europe in weaving and embellishing the fabric of Western Christian civilization.  History records their heroic exploits in the defense of the West against Tartar and Moslem.  Mighty tyrants enslaved them and even in their shackles they fought and bled in the sacred cause of freedom.  Never losing their identity, they chose ever to shed martyr blood rather than deny or dilute their Christian Faith.  Cruel, inhuman aggressors are now heaping upon them frightful atrocities and unprecedented  barbarities… To them the bishops of the United States, with their clergy and people, extend deep sympathy with the prayerful hope that the strong, victorious nations in charity and justice will give them succor in the sufferings and the full enjoyment of their indisputable rights.

American Catholics would ever resent their country’s being made a party to the de-Christianization of historic Catholic peoples.”  Religious Freedom in Poland and Baltic States  November 17, 1944

Alas, the hope expressed by the American bishops was in vain, at least in their generation.  The Soviet Union created the so-called Iron Curtain, enslaving 13 other countries under their communist thumb for the next four decades.  Seven years on, the Hierarchy wrote a sadly similar resolution and chastisement of the indifference of “so-called Christian governments” which ended:

“Let us call the roll of the nations in which persecution of the Church now rages:  Russia, the Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Albania, eastern Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, eastern Germany, Mongolia, and China and northern Korea.

And let us stand in a tribute of reverent admiration and prayer for those churchmen whose names are deathless symbols of all who suffer persecution for the sake of Christ:  Cardinal Mindszenty, Archbishop Stepinac, Archbishop Beran, Bishop Cule, Archbishop Groesz.”  Sympathy for the Victims of Iron Curtain Persecutions  November 19, 1951


This was also a time when the United States began to see its legal system turn away from the Church, systemically, beginning with the 1947 Everson v Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court described a “wall of separation” between church and state, a concept and language that would be used to bludgeon Christian ideology from the public sphere.  Nowadays in America, the beginning of the Christmas season is only truly upon us with the first news story about a township kicking Nativity statues off the city hall lawn.  Europe, seemingly spent of all moral and Christian vigor, has only preceded us in decline.

It’s become a common, and in my opinion not unfounded, theme to discuss our own martyrdom at the hands of the atheistic uber-state or Muslim terrorists, while an impotent society looks on.  Are you ready for martyrdom?  Am I?

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!


NOTE:  The first of those churchmen mentioned above, Cardinal Mindszenty, was a stalwart defender of the Church in Hungary against the Nazis and then the Reds, and he was punished with imprisonment.  During the 1956 Uprising, he was freed long enough to be taken into the American embassy before the Soviets could arrive to restore order.  The BBC account of the cardinal’s dramatic rescue and defense by U.S. Marines (and 15 year sequester in the embassy) is worth a quick read.

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