The sacrifice of the Martyrs is the fullest expression of this Sunday’s Psalm refrain: “Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” The Martyrs were able to give their lives in witness to Jesus Christ because they truly believed that His sacrifice was worth imitating. They knew that death was their victory, not their end. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead gave them hope in everlasting life; His perfect self-gift inspired them to respond with an equally powerful gift of self.
The sacrificial gift of the martyrs gives us proof that ordinary human beings can persevere with courage in the face of any earthly suffering. The Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1) gives us two short lists of martyrs who had some tie to the city of Rome; these martyrs serve as universal examples for the Church of what a full gift of self in imitation of Christ looks like in a variety of walks of life. It begins with the apostles, then lists several other early popes, deacons, and lay men and women from Europe, Asia Minor, and Africa. The whole Christian world is thus represented in brief in this canon of martyrs. Each of us can find someone on this list who represents us and whom we can imitate with a full gift of ourselves to God.
If you want to go deeper in study of these martyr saints, there is a great article on the National Catholic Register’s website (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/dicamillo/who-are-all-those-saints-in-the-roman-canon) or you can visit (http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/spirituality/saints-in-the-roman-canon.pdf) for another perspective. These martyrs are our heroes in imitation of Jesus Christ; may their example give us courage and stir in us the flame of faith that will inspire us to make a perfect gift of our lives.