“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” This ancient Christian maxim hits home in a particular way today as we celebrate the feast of Sts. Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf, and companions, commonly known as the “North American Martyrs.” I remember what an awesome and humbling experience it was to stand in the very spot in Auriesville, New York, where Rene Goupil, the first of the group to be martyred, shed his blood for Christ.
Yet the northeastern United States and Canada, where the North American Martyrs labored so courageously for Christ in the 17th century, are hardly hotbeds of Christian faith today. What do we make of this? [more]
I liken the situation to that of my front lawn. Years ago, the builder or perhaps the first owner of my home planted abundant grass seed and the lawn was one of the nicest on the block. Over time–and to some extent on my watch–much of the grass died and in its place weeds overran what was our beautiful lawn. In recent weeks, after pulling as many weeds as we could, we planted more grass seed (with the help of professionals this time), and now we await hopeful signs of new life in our yard after the desolation of winter.
“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Pope John Paul II applied this maxim to the situation today, as he looked out upon Europe and the United States and saw once-beautiful Christian “lawns” in need of some gardening. Yet, in his summoning a “new evangelization,” he fully anticipated a great harvest or “springtime” of holiness and fidelity that would revive these Christian strongholds of the past.
All that’s well and good, and in fact beautiful. But where is the seed? Where is the “blood” that will produce this great harvest?
We have the witness of the North American Martyrs and other early missionaries who brought the faith to the New World, sometimes through the shedding of their own blood. We have the witness of the first generations of Catholic immigrants, who despite their economic disadvantages built an impressive network of parishes, schools, and hospitals–very much through their “blood, sweat, and tears.”
We know that it is through the blood of Christ that we are saved. Yet, in every generation there have been heroic men and women whose own blood, commingled with that of our Redeemer, has prepared a rich soil for the Gospel. Where is the blood today?
Surely our government is only executing convicted criminals (that’s bad enough) and not Christians per se. Does it have to be physical blood? Maybe not. Martyrs are most essentially “witnesses,” and in that sense I know many “hidden” or “bloodless” martyrs who, in their own journey of faith, experience suffering that is truly salvific. Their quiet fidelity is building up the Church in our midst and ushering in a new generation of saints.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Still, I think much greater suffering is in store for us if we’re going to experience the sort of renewal that JPII prophesied. Where will it come from? The “Sexual Left” and the increasingly godless, secular powers-that-be? From Islam? From a sleeping giant like China? I don’t know. Likely it will involve, at least in the early stages, losing our livelihoods and other economic hardships as we refuse to reject Christ and compromise His truth.
The message here, the message of the martyrs, is truly one of hope, as God is ever faithful to His promises. The key is being faithful to our own promises.
“Amen, Amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn. 12:24). Or, unless I take the grass seed out of the bag and plant it in my front lawn, it remains but grass seed.
And if we’re not willing to go beyond ourselves, to lay down our lives for Christ, are we seeds at all, or weeds that are just getting in the way?