By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 19, 2018
I once visited an elderly lady named Frances in a nearby assisted-living home. She was so weak and frail, she could barely get out of bed.
She lived in one small room with few possessions, but she cherished a leather volume, “The Liturgy of the Hours,” which she opened multiple times a day to praise God.
The book was falling apart because prayers had been part of her life for decades.
When I first visited her, I pitied her because she had so little, but as the weeks wore on, I realized she was calm and gentle and content. It seems she had found the pearl of great price, the peace of Christ.
“The Liturgy of the Hours” includes special prayers for the memorials of martyrs, who were beheaded, drawn and quartered, starved to death, stoned or burned alive rather than deny Jesus.
When we read their tales, we may ponder how we’d react, were we faced with the possibility of martyrdom. Would we run away or walk bravely into the torture chamber?
It seems that many martyrs who surrendered to gruesome deaths were like Frances, who was daily giving her life, in bits and pieces, to Christ.
And because they were practiced in the art of denying self, when the decisive moment was upon them, they chose Christ.
On April 23, the memorial of St. George, there will be parades and dancing in the streets of England to honor that country’s patron saint. Most people know the legend of George slaying a dragon, but what’s most remarkable about him is that he suffered martyrdom for his Christian faith.
He was a Roman soldier born in A.D. 280 and a member of Diocletian’s army. When Diocletian ordered the army to kill Christians, George refused—and underwent gruesome, slow torture and then beheading.
The legendary dragon can symbolize the false promises of Satan, who lures us with selfish desires to amass wealth and power and achieve personal happiness at the cost of salvation.
In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis writes about the difficulty of overcoming selfishness. “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ.”
Christ said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
We lose our lives when we do something small for God, like letting another driver pull into the lane ahead of us or comforting a frightened child. Or something huge, like the police officer in France who recently traded places with a female hostage held by terrorists—and died as a result.
I imagine that if Frances had been faced with martyrdom, she wouldn’t have hesitated because, like St. George, she’d already given her whole self to Christ.
Church history tells us St. George lived chastely and gave generously to the poor. St. Peter Damian said, “He was consumed with the fire of the Holy Spirit.”
And on his memorial day, we can say a special prayer in his honor.
“O God, who did grant to St. George strength and constancy in the various torments which he sustained for our holy faith; we beseech Thee to preserve, through St. George’s intercession, our faith from wavering and doubt, so that we may serve Thee with a sincere heart faithfully unto death.”
May God keep our faith strong, despite the temptations of the devil, and keep us on the path to heaven. And if that path means giving up our earthly life out of love for God or living quietly in a small, simple room—may we accept his will bravely, walk into the arms of Christ and discover the pearl of great price.
Artwork (“The Prayer of Saint George,” oil painting) by Jef Murray www.jefmurray.com Lorraine’s email address is email@example.com.