Today, November 1, is the Solemnity of All Saints, on which the Catholic Church honors all of the saints. Since this is a solemnity, it’s not appropriate to fast, even though it’s Friday.
The United State Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking us to join in their intention: “We remember the saints and martyrs who were servants of the Lord during their earthly lives and ask that they pray for us to one day join them in heaven.”
Originally, this feast was instituted to honor the Christian martyrs of the Roman Empire. The USCCB reminds us that, although we usually think of martyrdom as a thing of the past, it is very much a thing of the present. Christians throughout the world are suffering persecution and death for following Christ. They are our modern-day martyrs.
Those who have given their blood for Christ and who have achieved sainthood by living lives of faithful holiness deserve our honor. We should laud them, strive to imitate them, and pray to them for their intercession on our own way to sainthood.
Still, there are others deserving of honor, I think, who have not given their blood for Christ but are martyrs nonetheless. They are the so-called white martyrs who have lived their lives totally committed to God, united completely to him, and accepted and endured tremendous suffering while offering it up to God in union with the Cross of Christ.
White martyrdom is not an official category of martyrdom in the Church, but merely a pious classification. Examples of white martyr saints are St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and Blessed John Paul II.
But there are others, ones you’ve heard about, observed, or associated with. You might even have lived with them. The white martyrs I’m referring to are the persons who have gone before us after having lived holy lives of patient suffering. They are the people we know who have gone to heaven because of their unbridled love and faithfulness.
This All Saints Day, please do honor the “red martyrs” as they’re called – the ones who were killed for their faith. But please also honor the white martyrs who died to themselves for the sake of Christ.
Here are five such white martyrs to honor:
1. The dads who got up every morning, went to work at a physically taxing and mentally demanding job, came home exhausted and yet still selflessly gave their all to their kids.
2. The mothers who joyfully served their families day in and day out, never slowing down, never allowing themselves to become overwhelmed by the seemingly endless amount of work.
3. The grandparents who refuse to give into helplessness or despair, even when their bodies fail them.
4. The men, women, and children who lived with chronic disease or disability and really lived with it, rather than giving up and giving in to self-pity.
5. The clergy and consecrated religious who devoted themselves entirely to the People of God, giving heroically of their time and talent in order to serve God in others.
6. Those who saw their crushing heartaches, fatal illnesses, emotional turmoils, or isolation as a means by which to grow closer to Christ and lead others to do the same.
The list could go on and on. There are all kinds of white martyrs, and I’m sure you can think of many more on your own. When you do think of them, thank them for their witness to Christ and ask them to help you in your own way to sainthood.