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Stories of martyrs approach modern reality

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April 30, 2012

By Stephen Trosley

They were publically humiliated, stripped of their property, imprisoned, tortured and dragged into the arena to be savaged by wild animals. Some were crucified and others were tested by fire. Those who survived were treated as outcasts.

The nuns teaching during the 1950s were accomplished at telling stories about the saints and engaged us in preparing reports of our own about the heroes and heroines of the early church and those doing mission work in the Third World.


But they showed the greatest enthusiasm for painfully detailed stories about the martyrs. We were growing up during the Cold War and World War II was a fresh memory. People were still trying to digest the reality of the Holocaust. The stories of martyrs were mated with the stories of Christians being persecuted behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet bloc nations.


Those trapped in communist nations were denied religious freedom and paid for proclaiming their faith by losing their hard-earned positions and fortunes. This was accompanied by imprisonment or detention in psychiatric hospitals as well as by torture and death.


We were not only encouraged to pray for our brothers and sisters in communist countries. We were urged to prepare ourselves for the trials we could face if the communists came to power in the U.S.A. We watched film of East Germans escaping over the Berlin Wall full of wonder and admiration.


A pre-teen with an active imagination wrestled with the images: Would he have the courage to face humiliation, imprisonment, torture and death rather than surrender his Catholic faith and hence his immortal soul?


Time moves on. Life presents distractions a-plenty. While we always knew we faced nuclear annihilation and enemies who wished us under their control, there was also social activity, higher education, work and for some, the challenges of raising a family.


Then came November 1989 and the wall came down. Our worries seemed over and it became easy to forget the stories of the martyrs.


Who among my classmates would have believed that our own government would someday threaten our First Amendment-guaranteed freedom of conscience? Who would have imagined we would be expected to accept the thwarting of a major tenet of our faith under the guise of a manufactured issue?


Yet, here faithful Catholics and their fellow American Christians stand wrestling with an Affordable Health Care Act mandate that challenges the most fundamental principle of our faith – our right to act upon our belief in the sanctity of life. Just as the saints of old and the former slaves of Soviet Communism, we may soon have to decide whether to choose our faith — and fines and similar form of punishment — or choose accommodation — shorthand for The Big Lie.
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The feast of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven is celebrated in May. One of my fellow CT staffers told me one of his favorite scriptural verses is Acts 1, 11-12. I asked our columnists to take the citation and run with it this month.

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Steve Trosley is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Telegraph. [email protected]

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