The image of the ISIS’ beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians has provoked various reactions: sympathy, outrage, exhortations to prayer, demands for action, and symbolic displays of solidarity. I think the most important reaction it is self-examination.
Pope Francis said of the slain Egyptian Coptic Christians that they were killed for being Christians, and that their blood bears witness to Christ. Their example should prod us to ask ourselves if we are willing to pay the price of discipleship — if we are willing to witness to Christ with our lives.
I’ve read somewhere that the word “martyr” comes from a word that means “witness”, and indeed, the martyrs who die for Christ give the ultimate witness to Christ.
However, all Christians, and not just those who face the prospect of literal martyrdom, are called to witness to Christ. Not all Christians are called to witness to Christ with their deaths, but all Christians are called to witness to Christ with our lives.
To witness to Christ with our lives may be less gruesome, less painful than what the martyrs had to face, but it too requires fortitude. Christ warned us that discipleship will not always be easy. But while we proudly call ourselves Christians, we often run away from the difficult but doable ways to live our faith.
Those Egyptian Coptic Christians were beheaded for being Christians. Many of us face more benign fates as a consequence of living consistently with our faith – losing friends; missing out on jobs or business opportunities; being labelled “self-righteous”, “old-fashioned”, “uncool”, “bigoted”, “close-minded”, or “outdated”; the inconveniences we have to put up with because we want to insert Sunday Mass in our week-end getaway plans. While our Christian brothers and sisters are being slaughtered for their faith, we let peer pressure or the allure of the easy way keep us from acting like a Christian when to do so requires, for example, saying “no” to an invitation to watch a certain popular movie, or explaining to a colleague why we are passing up the meat course during lunch on a Lenten Friday.
This is not to say that as Christians, we should deliberately stick out like sore thumbs. Nor does it mean that we should not defend our rights and well-being. Fortitude and prudence come hand in hand.
It does mean that we should follow Christ’s exhortation to be the salt of the earth, even when it is not easy. As the salt of the earth, we must blend in the world without losing our saltiness. Salt hurts when rubbed in wounds, and we live in a wounded world. Our example will inevitably make people uncomfortable. But just as salt heals, the public coherence between our behavior and our beliefs will help heal the wounded world in which we live.
Our decision to be more courageous in living the demands of the faith is the best way we can show solidarity with our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters. They strengthen us with their example and their prayers, but they are also relying on our help. Let us support them in their struggles by not shirking from the sacrifices that our discipleship will demand of us in our everyday lives.