One of 22 Ugandan martyrs, Charles Lwanga is the patron of youth and Catholic action in most of tropical Africa. He protected his fellow pages, aged 13 to 30, from the homosexual demands of the Bagandan ruler, Mwanga, and encouraged and instructed them in the Catholic faith during their imprisonment for refusing the ruler’s demands. For his own unwillingness to submit to the immoral acts and his efforts to safeguard the faith of his friends, Charles was burned to death at Namugongo on June 3, 1886, by Mwanga’s order. (franciscanmedia.org)
On June 3, the Church commemorated the feast day of St Charles Lwanga and Companions and once again evoked the Christian calling to be courageous and unshakable in our faith especially during times of great moral and physical temptation – that we may live as Christ lived.
One can be excused to think that martyrdom is not for everyone, or rather not everyone is called to be a martyr, when one is surrounded by the heroic stories of persecuted Christians who professed their faith and lived it even until death. Martyrdom from external forces is something that we have always heard about in our Catholic tradition.
How does martyrdom fit into the context of daily living? Martyrs die for their faith. How many of us are required to die for our faith in the course of our daily living?
Listening to Fr Michael Payyapilly of Holy Family Church, Melbourne I find myself greatly challenged to acknowledge that I too am called to be a martyr, from within, and on a daily basis.
He said, very often our faith will not be challenged from the outside; rather faith will be challenged from within, from our own selves. The martyrdom that we might have to go through is not the martyrdom from the exteriors. No one is going to show a knife to us and slit out throat just because we are a Christian. That most probably is not going to happen.
He maintained that the martyrdom from within, the betrayal from our own heart that we need to be very careful about is the martyrdom that we will be called to very often in our daily life.
When there is a desire from our own selves to challenge our Christian morals, our Christian faith and our Christian teachings, it doesn’t happen from the outside, underscored Fr Payyapilly, It will be most probably from within when we will want to do things the way we feel comfortable, the way it is more pleasurable to our body or to our emotions, or to our ideas or our thoughts, added the priest.
He continued, the inner conflict of the flesh from within that St Paul spoke about in Romans will always be a challenge to our faith, to our Christian morality. Our flesh will always show its tendency which will always be a challenge to our faith.
“I want to be loving and yet I cannot, I am unable to push myself towards it. It is not a martyrdom from the outside, but a martyrdom from within. The challenge will come from within when I want to respond with anger, with bitterness, but my Christian faith tells me to respond with love. When my Christian faith tells me to be pure, my body tells me to want the pleasure of the flesh,” explained the parish priest.
That is the martyrdom that we most probably will go through on a daily basis because we are challenged from within, not because we are challenged from outside. The ones that come from outside we will probably be prepared for. It is the challenge that comes from within that we will never be prepared for, warned Fr Payyapilly.
As for Charles Lwanga and other martyrs, he reasoned that they could express on the outside when it came to choosing death over life because they had conquered their challenges within.
In sum, very often the natural choice of human is that we tend towards the choice for life. We hear from the Scriptures (Second Book of Macabees) how the mother told her children not to betray the Lord for the desire for life, not to choose life over God, not to choose life over their Christian morals, and not to choose the love of life and the pleasure of life over their Christian calling.
Fr Payyapilly concluded that when the decisive moment comes and there is a challenge from within, we will be able to choose things of the above if we have set our minds on things above instead of setting our minds on things that are on the earth.