NORMAN — In the hierarchy of saints, martyrs are on the highest rung of the celestial ladder, at least for me.
While I love St. Bernadette with her story of mystical vision, it’s St. Maria Goretti — the child who surrendered her life to protect her purity — who animates my faith. St. Therese of Lisieux is an example of the glory we can find in small things but the Little Flower doesn’t inspire me like Joan of Arc, who died in a maelstrom of fire. And while St. Francis of Assisi with his gentle ways is a hero to our current, beloved pope, I’m drawn to St. Sebastian, a Roman soldier who paid for his conversion to Christ in a barrage of piercing arrows.
My preference for those who were tested through the crucible of physical suffering is, I’ll admit, a bit macabre. Today, we are taught that torturers are evil (which is of course correct) and that its victims are just that, victims. But to Catholics, there has always been something particularly ennobling about a person whose faith is so unshakable that it transcends terrestrial agony. They are heroic examples of the human spirit’s infinite power.
Last week, we were given just such an example, and while the story is painful, we should take notice on this Good Friday.
The Rev. Frans van der Lugt, 75, a Dutch Jesuit who had spent the last four decades ministering to children, the poor and the mentally disabled in Homs, Syria, was assassinated last Monday, according to a Vatican source. He was abducted by unidentified gunmen, beaten and then executed in front of his monastery.
Father van der Lugt was an outspoken critic of Bashar Assad. The dictator has not focused on the religion of his victims, targeting Muslim and Christian alike. Politics is all that matters: If you support Assad you are an ally and if you oppose him, a traitor. It’s not a simple calculus, and given the fact that some of the rebels who are seeking to depose the Assad regime are Islamist enemies of the west, you can understand why governments like our own have been hesitant to step in.