05 February 2007


Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr
Lk 9:23-26

We do not know exactly when St. Agatha was born. But we know when she died. She was martyred in Catania (the present-day Sicily in Italy) in the year 251 A.D., probably under the rule of the Emperor Decius.

We also know very little about her life. We know, however, that Agatha was a Roman citizen who belonged to the early Christian community. We also know that she was martyred preserving her physical and spiritual integrity. The pagans whose sexual advances she refused severed her breasts from her body. St. Agatha is a virgin martyr.

Now, here is another thing we do not know much about: the life of countless martyrs of the Church. We do not know much about the life of countless martyrs simply because the martyrs are countless. Most especially in the early period of the Church, many Christians gave their lives for the Lord. Many of them are remembered in places where they were born, lived and died as martyrs. Still some of them are known only to their descendants. But most of them, we know only by names either individually or as a group. This proves one very important fact: countless shed their blood for the Lord and the faith we now enjoy.

When one stands inside a catacomb, he cannot help but be overwhelmed by the remains of the Christian martyrs venerated there. The feeling of awe can move him to tears for both gratitude and shame: gratitude for the martyrs who, by their shedding of blood, planted the seeds of faith in our hearts, and shame for the lukewarm and mediocrity that may infect the faith of a present-day Christian. May our tears be tears of gratitude rather than of shame.

We, too, are called to martyrdom. Unlike that of St. Agatha’s, our martyrdom may not be about dying but about living. After all, “martyrion”, the Greek origin of the English word “martyrdom” simply means “witness”. And living speaks as loud as dying when witnessing is called for. Moreover, one does not simply die a martyr; rather, one dies a martyr’s death because the martyr has first lived a martyr’s life.

When we die, people may cry. But when they cry, may their tears be tears of gratitude for the kind of lives we lived. And if their tears are tears of shame, may the shame not be on us but on their failure to live the kind of lives they should live. In both cases, however, they will not need to know much about us. It will be enough for them to know that we died a martyr’s death by living a martyr’ life.


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