The Brutal Truth

I was teaching a class recently at a local parish, and my topic was in part on martyrdom as the fullest expression of the Christian idea of holiness.

The topic required that I speak about the raw brutality of humanity. I chose to share some of the the vivid details of the martyrs’ sometimes gruesome deaths not because I love sensationalizing, but because I believe those details lend to the martyr’s faith, hope and love a certain gravitas and power. In addition, I believe that one of Christianity’s greatest assets is its capacity to look honestly at humanity in its worst moments and shine into that deepest darkness the first rays of Easter light. Indeed, the Church, like Christ himself, actively and aggressively searches for those places of inhuman brutality in order to bring the humanity of the God-Man who alone can heal the wounds of sin and death.

At the end of the evening, one of the participants said: ‘I liked it, except for the awful gruesome stuff. I could have passed on that.’

I replied with my well-worn trope, ‘What I love most about Christianity is that at the epicenter of our faith is a brutalized, crucified, dead God who made the last word life and not death. And whether or not we ourselves see the reality out there, the fact is the violence of humanity is everywhere; and our work as Christians is to make sure the Gospel always shows up at the scene of every crime.’

Another woman piped up, ‘Yes, my husband was a homicide detective. It’s real.’

4 comments on “The Brutal Truth

  1. Paige says:

    Great post Dr. Neal. I love how there is no place out of Redemption’s reach.

    This morning during community prayer Sr. Diane called our attention to a convert who was pressed to death for sheltering priests during a time of persecution. Her murderers were patronizing her for abandoning her own husband for the sake of the faith. From beneath the stone which killed her she said, if I have at all neglected him I am deeply sorry, but I do not apologize for the faith. Her husband cried out from the crowd, “She was the best wife ever!”
    Because Christ and stones- husbands love their wives! Because Christ- these brutal stories are so glorious.

  2. It is truly stunning what one human being can inflict on another human being. Many times the brutality is with actions and many more times with words, which can have more power than sticks and stones. The details of the martyr’s death in these times must be gruesome in order to compete with the media saturated society in which humanity is steeped. The warning for these stories is seen in the crucifixion itself – which is a full exposition of the martyr’s heart. The Resurrection, the hope of something more, is the only way a person can truly face the grim reality of this world. It reminds me of a movie I once saw where the persecution of the Christians reaches an apex under the Roman domination of civilization. The executioner of Christians looks upon the faces of those martyred and remarks, “Strange, they are still smiling”.

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