From the editor: March 6, 2015
Like an Angel
Last month Vatican Radio reported a perhaps little-known aspect about the martyrdom of 21 Christians in Libya. Citing Fr. Rafic Grieche, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt:
Among the martyrs was a man from Chad, who Fr Greiche said had converted to Christianity because of the faith he witnessed in the Coptic Christians who had been taken captive.
"He found his faith when he saw the face of the other Egyptian Christians, he didn't want to leave," he said. "He wanted to be a martyr like them."
I want to comment about what he saw in the faces of those martyrs by reflecting on Stephen, the martyr. Recall that Paul (Saul) had participated in the martyrdom of Stephen. At his conversion, Jesus confronted him, saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Asked by Saul to identify himself, Jesus responded, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:4-5) Note well: Every attack on a Christian is direct assault on Jesus; he did not mean that we are members of his Body in a metaphorical sense, but in a true, spiritual way. So Jesus is there, actually present with the martyrs in their suffering.
Martyr, of course, means witness. But it is not an ordinary witness. It is supernatural, the witness of God to others. Martyrdom is thus a charism in which the Christian experiences the power of the Holy Spirit—which is why Christ says that the Spirit will give the Christian the words to say when he is brought to trial—as was the case with Stephen.
Remember what they saw, those who looked at the face of Stephen during his trial? "And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel." (Acts 6:15) At his death, Stephen, "full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." There was *something* about Stephen out of the ordinary. Perhaps Saul noticed it, but it took time to sink in, even a fall from a horse. That something was the very Presence of Jesus, manifested somehow in Stephen's face.
I have read countless stories of martyrs throughout the centuries in which unbelieving onlookers, jailers, executioners, fellow soldiers, or relatives converted on the spot, confessing Christ—even at the cost of their lives. What is reported about conversion of the man from Chad in Libya is very much like those stories.
If the account of the convert martyr from Chad is true (and I have no reason to doubt it), it is another shining example of the supernatural witness of Christ through his martyrs. We are touching the fringe of spiritual mysteries here. Christ is here among us. He recently visited a seashore in Libya, and appeared in the faces of those martyrs. And now a worker from Chad is today with Him in Paradise.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James