THE FORTY MARTYRS were soldiers quartered at Sebaste in Armenia, about the year 320. When their legion was ordered to offer sacrifice they separated themselves from the rest and formed a company of martyrs. After they had been torn by scourges and iron hooks they were chained together and led to a lingering death. It was a cruel winter, and they were condemned to lie naked on the icy surface of a pond in the open air till they were frozen to death. But they ran undismayed to the place of their combat, joyfully stripped off their garments, and with one voice besought God to keep their Ranks unbroken. "Forty," they cried, "we have come to combat: grant that forty may be crowned." There were warm baths hard by, ready for any one amongst them who would deny Christ. The soldiers who watched saw angels descending with thirty-nine crowns, and, while he wondered at the deficiency in the number, one of the confessors lost heart, renounced his faith, and, crawling to the fire, died body and soul at the spot where he expected relief. But the soldier was inspired to confess Christ and take his place, and again the number of forty was complete. They remained steadfast while their limbs grew stiff and frozen, and died one by one. Among the Forty there was a young soldier who held out longest against the cold, and when the officers came to cart away the dead bodies they found him still breathing. They were moved with pity, and wanted to leave him alive in the hope that he would still change his mind. But his mother stood by, and 'this valiant woman could not bear to see her son separated from the band of martyrs. She exhorted him to persevere, and lifted his frozen body into the cart. He was just able to make a sign of recognition, and was borne away, to be thrown into the flames with the dead bodies of his brethren.
I beg the 40 martyrs to pray for me, that I love Christ and His Holy Church as they did. I want to be ready for that moment when it all hangs in the balance and I have to decide if I am willing to sacrifice all for my Lord. Note that they did not just grudgingly "admit" that they were Christians; they ran to the frozen pond and cast off their clothes so that they could sooner be with Christ. They were eager to suffer for the Faith. They did not look for weasel words that could be taken two ways so they could not exactly deny the Faith, but not exactly offend anybody.
What will I answer when people ask, "You don't really believe in Creation, do you?" Will I remain silent the next time somebody publicly criticises our Catholic Faith or mocks the Church and Her teachings? Will I mumble something to myself when someone says something in favour of legalising "Civil Unions" rather than pointing out that such unions are contrary to the law of God and His Church and the Natural Law as well?
Christ told us in the Gospel of this past Sunday, He who is not with me is against me. Dear Lord, I want to be with Thee, I want to profess my love for Thee and my loyalty to Thy Church. Make me a valiant Soldier of Christ as the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste were and through their intercession, and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, grant me the Grace to persevere until the end.