- This article originally appeared on Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog “Standing on My Head,” and is reprinted with permission. Visit his website, browse his books, and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com.
When faced with the new horrors confronting Christians in the world today one comes back time and again to ask “Why”?
First of all we consider the enemy. Within the world there is an irrational rage that surges out into violence. One cannot enter into any kind of discussion with such violent and irrational rage.
When faced with it I am reminded of the sub human beasts in the film I Am Legend. There was no reasoning with them. They were demon possessed, and demons, but definition are unable to reason. They are beyond reason because they are creatures of the lie and their Father is the Father of Lies.
This is the irrational rage which has always thrown itself, howling, vociferous and viscous at the children of Light. St Peter said it true, “Your adversary the devil is a roaring lion stalking about seeking whom he may devour.”
The Christian response has been martyrdom, and here is where the mystery lies.
The great wound in the world is that we are unhappy and we blame others for what is wrong with the world. Blaming others means that if we want to put the world right we must get rid of the ones who are the problem. The logic continues to force us to not only blame others, but to try to get rid of them, and the more frustrated we are in not being able to get rid of them (because maybe they are bigger and richer and stronger than us) the more we drift into irrational rage and murderous violence.
When this happens anyone can be the victim – anyone can be the scapegoat. History has shown that Christians are the ones who are attacked for they are the lambs – the sacrificial lambs.
What causes the irrational rage? Demon possession is part of the problem, but we needn’t suggest that the supernatural is the whole problem. Human evil produces violence. I have written here explaining how each one of the seven deadly sins leads to irrational rage and violence. When humanity indulges in sin it leads to irrational rage and violence, and because irrational rage always attaches itself to an innocent victim (that’s why it’s evil) the sin will always spiral downward into rage and murder.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say a boy was conceived in a moment of drunken lust. The father disappears. The mother hates being pregnant and attempts an abortion. In the womb the child knows nothing but hatred, stress, fear and loathing. He is born to a distressed and broken woman who can’t care for him. Let’s imagine that she is a drug addict who takes out her own rage and frustration on the child. So he is neglected, beaten, blamed and rejected. What kind of a man will he turn out to be? It doesn’t take much thinking to see how sin produces rage and violence.
When this individual story is multiplied many times over no wonder our whole world is erupting in mindless chaos, violence and hatred.
The Christian story is that Jesus Christ comes into the midst of this horror and says to the irrationally violent, “You want someone to blame? You’re looking for an innocent victim to torture and kill? You’re looking at him. It’s me.”
So Christ Jesus takes the blame, and after that establishes the model for martyrdom.
The Christian martyr therefore is very different from the so called Muslim martyrs who die in jihad. The Christian martyr is a lamb to the slaughter.
Now here is the truly mysterious part: the Christian martyrs perpetuate and complete the cross of Christ. St Paul said it himself, “In my sufferings I complete what is lacking in the cross of Christ.”
There is therefore a deep theology within the mystery of martyrdom. The true martyrs really do “take up their cross and follow Christ” and as they do so they share with him in the redemptive action in the world. With him they embrace the horror. They accept the blame. They take on the grim reality of the irrational rage, the frustrated hatred and the fury that comes from the fires of hell itself.
Then in a reversal we still cannot understand fully, the violence is purged, the enemy is vanquished, and sanity is restored.
This horror is at the heart of humanity and this is why only the Catholic faith continues to celebrate and bring in to the present moment every day the one, full, final sacrifice of the Cross.
It is there that the answer which is beyond words is held, and it is this is why we say with St Paul, “We preach Christ and him crucified.”
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