In the Second Book of Maccabees, we read about an amazing woman, a great heroine of Faith, (2 Macc 7). The Jewish nation was being pressured to embrace paganism; those who refused were tortured and killed, men, women and children. Some gave in, but many held fast to their faith. This lady faced a terrible situation. A pagan persecutor had already killed, one by one, six of her seven sons, because they boldly refused to renounce their faith. She had encouraged them to die for their faith:

"I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of His laws."

Finally they came to the last. The king told her to persuade her son to give up the Jewish religion in exchange not only for his life but also rewards of money and power. Imagine the sorrow in her heart and the fear. She leaned towards her youngest and spoke in Hebrew these noble words:  "My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again with your brothers."

While she was still speaking, the young man said, "What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king's command, but I will obey the command of the law that was entrusted to our ancestors through Moses." What strength, what virtues motivated such firmness in the faith? As Catholic Christians we have a rich history, full of treasured models of unshaken faith, too many to record, though they are all recorded in heaven.

Throughout Catholic history, many people have faced threats to their life for believing in Our Blessed Lord.  Earliest attacks came from the Jewish authorities who tried to suppress the truth of the Resurrection.  The first Martyr of that time was St. Stephen. As he died, he shared with those stoning him his vision of heaven "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56) and gave them also the example of forgiveness.

What gave him such peace and confidence in that extreme danger? Other persecutions have come from Roman pagans, who thought they could crush Christianity as easily as they crushed nations, forcing everyone in their domain to worship their many idols, and offer incense to Caesar. How did a young girl like St. Perpetua find the courage to even cheerfully accept death for Christ, and again the newly converted St. Barbara? What could motivate such a clear message given by the elderly St. Justin, when asked if he was willing to give up the Faith, declared: "Your question hardly deserves an answer....."

This moral strength was typical of whole communities. One inspiring case was from Cappadocia in Turkey. In order to hide from the Roman soldiers who were hunting for Christians, thousands resorted to digging elaborate cave cities in the volcanic ash-rock. They had a network of many levels, containing  homes for thousands, a Church, granary, stables, wine-press, and, beneath it all, an underground river. A complex system allowed ventilation and smoke could escape without being noticed by the searching Roman soldiers. The even had traps for defense, places above the very narrow tunnels from which to throw spears or pour hot oil. It is amazing to think of all those people living for months at a time in the dark, not giving in to the pressure or the promise of a reward which would have been ready for any traitors. Meanwhile the Romans rode about in the snows above, scratching their heads and wondering where everybody had vanished. This feat required great organization, patience, hope and a great love of the Faith, a great love for Christ. The Bishops encouraged the people with the example of the early martyrs who had gone before them.

Those who have shared our Faith in the past have been persecuted by Protestants trying to force a false version of Christianity, and by totalitarian ideologies like Nazism and Communism. Many have suffered and died at the hands of Islamists who continue today to say those stark words, "Convert or die!" Like in the time of the Maccabees, "many were prepared to die, and they did die." Their answer in the face of such temptation to renounce their faith is so admirable. Think of St. Thomas More, who explained, "I am the King's good servant, But God's first." In more recent history, Mexican martyrs declared, "Viva Cristo Rey!", Long live Christ the King!

So what was it that motivated martyrs in the past and present? Surely it was the supernatural gift of Faith. They believed completely in all that they learned from God, about His mercy in becoming man to save us, in the Church as His Mystical Body and in all that He taught through her. But it sometimes happens that other people betray others, even when they know them. through fear or desire of gain. So there must have been more to their motive. Martyrdom is the evidence of a firm faith which is alive with hope and love. These heroes did not want to betray the Lord on whom they believed because they knew how much He loved them and they loved Him in return, more than their own lives here on earth.

Source: Catholic Contact.