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1816, Saint Marcellin ministered to the dying teenager, Jean-Baptiste Montagne
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The Mirror of the Martyrs



Thoughts on our Martyrs

28/01/2009: General House

On my way back from Algeria last November I brought back with me the testimonies in Spanish on Sisters Caridad and Esther to get them translated into French, the language of the rest of the documents for the cause.

Reading and translating the documents produced a series of feelings in me, and I must admit I went through moments of intense emotion when, for instance, the witness of martyrdom astonishes a nation and sheds light on the meaning of life.

Sometimes there were also questions: aren’t we exaggerating, in multiplying our praise, in creating sterling saints, making them born already directed towards heaven and therefore removing them from common mortals?

These legitimate questions vanished in front of the truth that the martyrs are like mirrors we can see our own image in, or rather, the work of the Spirit in the triviality of our days.

Death offers the opportunity to look at a life that is stopped. This stop allows to examine its nuances, to contemplate it at length. Then, reading it as a whole, it is possible to see better the plan of God. Through what previously seemed trivial, ordinary, routine, the light of God shines forth. A smile, a service, a cup of tea prepared for the elderly, a conversation with a group of neighbours, the most ordinary human links weaved among the members of the same community or with people of a different religion, let us see that there the Spirit is at work. Then the holiness of daily life transpires, holiness within one’s daily life, the habit of serving, of work well done, of offering company. Yes, all these martyrs are very close to us, they resemble us so closely that we could say: “They have nothing special! Between us and them there is nothing except a bullet in the front or the back of the head”.

In spite of it all, we still have the obsession of believing that sanctity is something exceptional, heroic and we all wait for great feats of love, mortification, or prayer, in order for us to acknowledge: “That one, that one really was a saint!”. But my brother, my sister who toils by my side, as frail as I am, what is so special in them?

This is what is extraordinary about martyrs: they let us see how the Spirit of God is weaving love into our lives, into our communities, into our Church. The same holiness I discover in the martyrs of my family is accomplished by the Spirit in my life, through the patience of days, in the life of my brothers, of my sisters, of my community. When death comes, what is left in us is the work of the Spirit: the light of love. That is why every funeral is like a little canonisation: one speaks only goodly of the deceased, it is the good the Spirit did through the freedom of man. And actually, the proof of the fact that we share so much with our martyrs, is that with them we carried out the same discernment of whether to stay or to leave. With them we chose to stay, to continue to serve, to love, to be close to a people that lives and experiences a long and terrible martyrdom. Mgr Henri Teissier, who accompanied many communities through this discernment, sees in the choice to stay “the fruits of faith, of hope, of love of the Church of Algeria!”.

Also, the more we look at the life of our martyrs, the more we discover the work of the Spirit in us. Normally this should build in our hearts a feeling of immense gratitude and marvel. Looking at the martyr I can truly say: “Thus the Spirit works in me!”.

You have lived with martyrs that were so similar to you, because in you and in them the Spirit is doing the same work. The martyrs offer us this light that shines within: the Spirit of the Lord is with us. It weaves holiness into our smiles, our services, into our faithfulness to the task that is assigned, into the joy of being part of the Body of Christ, sharing anything that life in community is.

But this holiness of our martyrs is not entirely accomplished without us. Prayer, meals, work, resting and suffering in the community were the human links through which the Spirit worked within us. Yes, all this tissue of humanity is filled with God. Also much of me is transferred into the other and much of the other into me. He helps me and I help him. In the brother, the father, the sister that were killed, there are many elements that the members of the community, of the Church, or even their Muslim friends, gave them. Where there was love, the death of my brother made also me a martyr. It is as if half of me had passed in heaven. Though we are physically separated, the same heart beats in the martyrs and in us, the heart of the first Martyr.

Rather than being people who departed from us, our brothers and sisters who died for Christ shed light on the depth of our being, in order to let us see the patient marvels of God. They tell us that Christ and the Spirit are full of passion for each of us and passion for our community. This holiness of the Church, of the community, may be shot through by bullets, but it is the same holiness, the same Spirit at work, the same Lord who saves, the same Father who welcomes the children.

The martyrs did not flee from us; they are not removed from us. They are more within us than ever before, they are within Life itself. A part of me is already there.

Br Giovanni Maria Bigotto, Postulator

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