God loves a generous giver. The martyrs are unmistakably generous givers. You do not question a person who is willing to die for what they believe in. Robert Royal, in his book The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive Global History, 2000, presents the case that there were more Christian martyrs in the past 20th century than in all the previous centuries combined. It was a very bloody century, when you consider the two great World Wars, and all the persecutions and devastation of life that accompanied them. And today we observe the Christian persecutions in the Middle East.
But what motivated the martyrs? Jesus says: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there shall my servant be” (Jn 12: 25-6). Elsewhere Jesus says: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10: 37-9).
We naturally love the good things of this life. We naturally delight in the goodness of the love between spouses, and the love parents have for their children. Is it not a thing of beauty to observe the commitment and generous love that young parents give to their children? Good parents will do anything necessary for their children. Marriage, children, family and the good things of this life are all things to be treasured. But they are not the greatest goods. They are not ends in themselves.
We are to come to understand that all these things are gifts from God to us. They are signs of his goodness and generosity to us. But we were created for something much greater than these. God created us for himself. He wants us to recognize him as God, and to respond to his great desire that we share in his own interpersonal communion of love and life. So we love our parents, and spouses and children, and the good things of this life. But we love our God first, and recognize that all good things come from him. Parents must understand that the time comes when they must give their children back to God. Spouses must understand that their love for each other originated with God; it is God’s gift to them. We are to treasure our life, and protect the right to life for all persons, but we must understand that we destined for another life and another home. Our true home is in heaven, with God and the communion of angels and saints. Here on this planet Earth we are only travelers.
If we love God first, above all other things, with our whole heart, mind and strength, then we will prefer nothing to the love of God. Like the martyrs, we will witness to the unchallenged primacy of God in our lives. We will allow no one, and no thing, to divide our loyalties to God. We will follow Him wherever He leads us. We will accept whatever difficulties He allows to happen in our lives. Like the grain of wheat, we willingly let go of, and surrender, our present status, so that a much greater form of life can be generated.
“God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” (2 Cor 9:8).