Print Version November 23rd, 2004
‘Your endurance will win you your lives’. That hardly seems a cheery prospect—tough it out, head down, carry the cross and bear the pain and it’ll all work out in the end. And that maybe what we have to from time to time in our lives—we all hit rough spots, and maybe we land up there through our faith, for our witness.
The trouble with endurance is that it can be a tough habit to break. We can put up with a lot for so long that we can come to forget any other way of being. We can learn to distrust the world and distrust our own happiness. We can draw back from life, suspicious of God’s goodness to us as too good to be true. As though all we were worth was to endure.
In my family, if you were caught with a long face that’s what you were called—martyr.
‘Your endurance will win you your lives’. The parish I used to work in, half the community was Vietnamese and this feast of their martyrs was incredibly important to them. Some of the families were recently arrived; others had been there for twenty years or more. The bulk of the parish had been boat people, adrift for weeks or months in open boats escaping persecution for their faith. For most it was a second flight, a second exile, having fled from the North to the South before the war and then from Vietnam completely. Some of their stories would give you nightmares. Our people knew about endurance. Oh, they knew about it.
And against all odds, endurance gave them life. This feast every year was extravagant, grateful, graceful, gaudy. Choirs, processions, flowers by the bushel, walkie-talkies and tannoys, folk-dancing and incense, clothes in bright colours, banners too, and a drum the size of two bathtubs. And that was just the mass. The party afterwards had food for a thousand—basil and mint and chillies and the day-long smell of roasting.
Martyrdom is about endurance but only because endurance marks what we hold important—essential. Martyrdom is the witness we give to what we hold dearest. And that witness is given not just—or best—in the dying moments of life … but in the daily joy of its living and the wholeheartedness of its celebrations.
If something’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for. It’s worth the celebration.