Our Martyrdom1. St. Ambrose describes virtue as a slow martyrdom. In this sense we must all be martyrs. There is only one difference. The Martyrs of the Church shed their blood and gave up their lives for Jesus within one hour or one day and gained their reward immediately. Our martyrdom, on the other hand, will be prolonged. It will last all our lives and will end only when we accept death with resignation from the hands of God. Ours is the martyrdom of virtue. Let us clearly understand that solid Christian virtue is a slow and continual martyrdom which will end with death. It is not a flower which springs up spontaneously in the garden of the soul. It is like a seed which is thrown on the damp earth and must die there slowly so that it can generate young shoots which will produce the ears of corn. “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.” (John 12:24-25) It is necessary, then, to descend into the mire of humility and to remain there until we die. Only after we have died to ourselves shall we rise again in God. (Cf. ibid) After the death of our lower instincts and vices we shall find a new life.
2. Perhaps we complain at times about the humiliations which we have to endure and the temptations which we have to overcome. But this is the prolonged martyrdom of a virtuous life. “The kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells us, “has been enduring violent assault and the violent have been seizing it by force.” (Mt. 11:12) We must struggle against ourselves and our evil inclinations in order to gain the kingdom of Heaven. Only those who fight can conquer. St. Paul says that nobody can win the crown of victory unless he has fought valiantly. “One who enters a contest is not crowned unless he has competed according to the rules.” (2 Tim. 2:5) So let us resign ourselves willingly to the lengthy martyrdom of a good life. If we do, our martyrdom will prove easy and acceptable. We shall trust in God and shall be comforted by the thought of the crown which awaits us.
3. Those who go the way of worldly vanity and vice endure a martyrdom in any case. There is no doubt that their martyrdom is even more painful. Worldly pleasure is like a gilded cup which has a little honey on the rim but when it is drained leaves behind a bitter taste. St. Augustine says that God has ruled from all eternity that a disordered soul will be its own punishment. Sacrifice which demands heroic virtue leaves God's peace in the soul. Those sacrifices, on the other hand, which are demanded by a worldly life and excessive pleasures are a martyrdom which brings no reward and no happiness. Since either way we must undergo a martyrdom in this life, let us choose the sweet martyrdom of virtue. Our reward will be in Heaven.