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‘Do hard things for Christ’

First slide

As we prepared to embark on the high-ropes course — a series of obstacles 12 to 65 feet off the ground strung between trees — I asked the young men of Quo Vadis what virtue we might need. One of these high school discerners immediately called out, “Courage.” Yes, courage — offshoot of fortitude, one of the four cardinal virtues.

Courage both curbs excessive daring and moderates excessive fear. If we went up into the trees without any safety training, practice or harnesses, that would be reckless. It’s actually courageous to take the necessary precautions. But most of the time, it is fear we have to overcome to do the good thing that is difficult, such as going to talk with the person who is lonely, even if it might be awkward; or forgiving someone who has hurt me; or admitting that I have a problem with something and that I need help; or even giving the ultimate witness to the faith — martyrdom.

In the early church, persecutions were often sporadic. One week you might be living the faith in peace, while the next a band of Romans comes to town and executes many Christians. In response, there developed a “theology of martyrdom,” a training regimen of sorts to prepare for that moment in which one might be called on to make the ultimate sacrifice. Prayer, fasting and acts of self-denial were their means of readying themselves, welcoming God’s strengthening grace into their souls. They would also tell stories of the intense tortures and heroic witness of those who had given their lives. As Tertullian said centuries ago, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, winning many converts who marvel at their witness. “What are those Christians living for, or what is it that they have, that they would even die rather than deny Christ?”

We used the ropes course that day as a small way to practice courage, to offer our activity as a prayer, to prepare for martyrdom. On the last and hardest obstacle course of the day, I preceded a young man who we’ll call Sebastian. Having just been utterly defeated by an especially difficult and balance-annihilating obstacle, I turned around and yelled to Sebastian, “This is really hard!” His response: “Prepare for martyrdom!”

My first reaction was one of indignation, thinking, “Hey, you can’t use my line against me.” Then I realized he was right, and this gave me a surge of joy and fortitude. I gathered up my strength, took courage and gave it all I had, wobbling swiftly through the rest of that obstacle.

At the end of the day, I shared that experience with the rest of the guys. It’s so important to encourage one another in the fight and draw strength from each other. Often all it takes is a word, a challenge, an encouragement. You’ve got this. Prepare for martyrdom. Do hard things — it’s worth it. Do it for Christ — he’s worth it.

Daniel Rice, who is from St. Timothy Church in Chantilly, is in his first year of theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019