Thursday, February 2, 2012

The other kind of martyr

Today, in addition to being the feast of St. Blaise, patron saint of throat ailments—whose prayers I sought when recovering after thyroid-cancer treatment—it is also the day the Church commemorates the ninth-century Benedictine monk St. Ansgar.

Ansgar's greatest hope was to die a martyr for the Church. Although he got his wish, it was not as he expected. He died a "white" martyr; that is, his witness was bloodless, but no less genuine.

The author of his Vita puts it beautifully: "For it is clear that there are two kinds of martyrdom, one which occurs when the Church is at peace, and which is hidden from sight; the other which occurs in a time of persecution and is visible to all. [Ansgar] desired both kinds of martyrdom, but one only did he attain."

In my upcoming book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, I talk about how victims of childhood sexual abuse have fellowship with the martyrs. They are living witnesses to the dignity of every human person, a dignity that shines through the wounds inflicted upon them by those who would deface the image of God. Like Ansgar and all the saints, they share in Christ's Passion, and, as John Paul II wrote, they are particularly close to His Heart.