The martyrs have been on my mind lately. The other morning I turned to the letter St. Ignatius wrote to the church in Rome, before he was executed. I read the following words,
I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all to realize that I am voluntarily dying for God – if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts–that is how I can get to God. I am God’s wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. I would rather that you fawn on the beasts so that they may be my tomb and no scrap of my body be left. Thus, when I have fallen asleep, I shall be a burden to no one. Then I shall be a real disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more. Pray Christ for me that by these means I may become God’s sacrifice.
The early Christians understood martyrdom to be a privilege. Martyrs were chosen by God. That is why they went willingly to their deaths. Consider the example of St. Polycarp. At the urging of his church, he fled to a country farm during a time of persecution. This was not uncommon for bishops to do. When he was discovered by Roman soldiers, he could have fled again, but instead he gave himself over to them, saying, “God’s will be done.”
I have been thinking of the martyrs because of Sandy Hook. The NRA advises schools to hire armed guards because they think the best way to prevent gun violence is the threat of more gun violence. The peace is preserved by fear of retaliation. But to me, that feels like giving up. It feels like apostasy – the loss of faith in Christ and his kingdom.
Fear is thoroughly inconsistent with the Christian vision for a just society. The kingdom of God is a reign of peace preserved by love. Thus I cannot imagine St. Ignatius taking up arms or St. Polycarp packing heat. Rather, they took seriously Jesus’ command not to resist an evil person (Matt 5:39). I do not know whether that means we should turn the cheek in every situation or not, but it does suggest that the false peace of mutual threat (the peace of the NRA) is a far cry from the kind of peace to which we are called.
That is why (even though I own guns), I cannot understand the logic of the NRA. I guess it would make sense if the kingdom of God did not exist. Maybe then there would be something to the idea of universal deterrent. But accepting that we can only have peace if we all carry guns feels like an act of unbelief. It feels like giving up.