Thursday, December 24, 2015

Book Review: To the Martyrs, by Cdl. Donald Wuerl

Cdl. Donald Wuerl
Emmaus Road Publishing
Cover Price: $22.95

 Anti-Christians condemn Christians for their hypocrisy. However, not a single Christian martyr has ever suffered persecution by non-Christians for failing to live the gospel message perfectly. Rather, Christians were and are persecuted just for associating themselves with the gospel message in the first place. Imperfection of religious practice has hardly been a barrier to execution, imprisonment, maiming, rape, or torture by those who hate Christianity and that for which they think it stands.

This is the first thought that occurs to me after reading To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness by Cdl. Donald Wuerl. The title reflects both the title of a letter by the Church Father Tertullian and Wuerl’s own personal fascination with, and dedication to, the millions of martyrs and confessors who have been “the seeds of the Church” over the last two millennia. It’s a “reflection” as well in that it’s obviously not an exhaustive treatment of martyrdom intended for scholars and Church historians, but rather a brief overview for the ordinary layman. Written in a very accessible style, it has just enough footnotes to show that the good archbishop didn’t rely on his own memory or make things up as he went along.

As one reads To the Martyrs, though, a theme recurs. G. K. Chesterton famously noted that the Christian ideal hadn’t been “tried hard, and found wanting,” but rather had been “found difficult; and left untried.” However, as Cdl. Wuerl shows, the centuries of persecution didn’t come from people who found the Christian ideal too difficult to live up to, but rather from people who found that ideal too challenging, too uncomfortable to live with.