It is said that Cardinal George of Chicago said: "I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr..." If it is true, it may be prescient of the future that awaits serious Christians all over the world -- if not in this generation, perhaps in the ones to come.
Yet this is not entirely a bad thing. The greatest vibrancy of faith and life has often come not in times of relative prosperity when it was possible to confess the faith with impunity but during times of persecution, struggle, and even violent oppression. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church... and it may take some of this to awaken us from the sleep of complacency and a comfortable Christianity that bears little resemblance to Jesus or the early Church.
Only weeks ago we commemorated the Martyrdom of Polycarp. It is not significant that a first hand account of a tortured death became one of the single most important writings of the early church? We no longer gather at the graves of the martyrs to rejoice in their faithfulness, to seek to be like them with such singleness of will and boldness of spirit, or to recall with joyful thanksgiving the all they gave in the hour of trial. Perhaps this is exactly what will spur us on from the deception of a cultural Christianity which takes it worship cues and moral values from the surrounding landscape of society instead of a movement built upon the scandal of the cross. Surely God is not responsible for the mess of things we have made but if, in this mess, He prods His Church to rise up from the ashes, then the suffering will not have been in vain.
"I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr..." Rather a different idea that the one my parents had, hopefully passing on to me a better life, a better church, and a better future than they knew. I do not fault them for their desire and am thankful for their many sacrifices but it just may be that my own children will find their future tied up with sacrifice more than blessing (at least in the earthly sense of that term blessing).
Yet God is here still, through the means of grace, imparting forgiveness for failure, hope for His future, and enough comfort and peace to bind up our broken hearts and bruised spirits...