There are times when the path to which God calls us leads us into trouble or difficulty. Being faithful to that path, being obedient to that call, can prove to be very costly. We have only to recall Christ’s agony in Gethsemane to know that this was true for Jesus, and he assures us that it will also be true for many of those who choose to embrace and follow him on the Way.
It was certainly true for the Christians of Lyons in southern France in the late 2nd century, whom we are remembering today. When they embraced the Gospel and by their baptismal vows promised to follow Jesus, they set out on a way that proved very costly indeed. There were at first ostracized by their neighbors, then the butt of cruel jokes and insults. Their homes were pillaged, and their neighbors hurled sticks and stones at them. Then, as hatred for them grew and spread, they were arrested, tortured and beaten, and finally many were put to death. A letter from the Christians who survived describes their suffering and their response:
“From the start they endured nobly all the brutal treatment inflicted on them by the whole mob. They suffered insults, blows, dragging along the ground, pillaging, stoning, imprisonment – everything a furious mob is accustomed to heap on their adversaries and enemies. Then the tribune and the magistrates employed by the city had them brought into the forum, where they were interrogated in front of all the people. When they made their confession of faith, they were thrown into prison until the arrival of the imperial governor.
“Almost immediately two distinct groups showed up among the prisoners. Some were obviously ready to bear witness to Christ and eager to perform the martyr’s act of faith. But some others appeared to be neither ready nor prepared; they were still weak and unable to bear the strain of a great contest. Around ten of this second group aborted. They caused us great heartache and immense sadness. They shook the courage of those who had not yet been arrested and who, despite their dreadful sufferings, had continued to stand by the martyrs and would not forsake them.”
Those who refused to renounce Christ were subjected to unspeakable terrors; among them, a young slave girl named Blandina who distinguished herself by the sheer volume of torture she withstood before she finally died.
When we set out on a path in response to God’s call and meet with trials or resistance or other costly forms of suffering, we are sometimes tempted to turn back, to choose an easier way, a path of greater ease or less resistance. But others embraced their punishments, steadfastly declaring their love for Christ and claiming their identity as Christians. They considered it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ.
To love God above all things brings both pleasure and pain. Khalil Gibran captures this tension in his classic work, The Prophet, when he writes these words:
When love beckons you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you, yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions wounds you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Perhaps these words describe your journey with God or that of someone whom you know. It may be difficult just now to trust that God’s intention for you is love. You may be tempted to look for an easier path, a less demanding way.
Let Blandina and her companions give you hope. Let their example give you courage. Let their faith inspire you to persevere. Let their trust in God inspire a like trust in you.
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