As its first big event of the year, Franciscan University’s Women’s Ministry hosted a theology professor who spoke on the gift of martyrdom and its inspiration to the Church.
William Newton, faculty chair of Franciscan’s Austria Program, who holds a doctorate in theology, spoke to a crowd of women in the Gentile Gallery on the night of Sept. 21. Newton said that martyrs teach the Church to “seek first the kingdom of God.”
“We don’t seek martyrdom. It is a gift given to us,” said Newton.
The example of martyrs leads the faithful to be ready to accept any gift God gives, whether it is laying down a life in testimony or not, Newton said. Remembering the martyrs reminds the Church that receiving the Blood of Christ in Communion attests to this readiness.
Although the martyrs gave the ultimate gift of their lives, Newton said that their martyrdom was “like a crown” on a pious life. They accepted martyrdom because they lived in conformity to the life of Christ, which Newton said is how the faithful are called to follow their example. He said that everyone is called to live like a martyr, “had they not been led to that ultimate gift.”
Newton explained that martyrs give a “tesitmonium fidei,” testimony of faith, which clashes with “odium fidei,” hatred of faith. This hatred can be overt or camouflaged by political agendas. The source of odium is manifold, said Newton. While it is prominently coming from Islam now, atheism is actually the cause of the most modern martyrs, especially in totalitarian regimes like Nazism and communism, he said.
Because of these sources of odium, the forms of testimony are varied. Newton said martyrs sometimes give testimony to a dogma or simply to the life of Christ. One example Newton gave of giving testimony to the life of Christ was women who are martyred resisting rape, like Maria Goretti. Newton said the testimony these women give is to the dignity of women, which they uphold because of their belief in God.
“I really liked how Dr. Newton was talking about how martyrdom is a gift and it’s not necessarily something that we seek,” said senior Gabrielle Armstrong. “We should just trust the Lord and if that’s a gift the Lord wants to give you, then He’ll give that to you.”
Senior Madeleine Doyle said, “I enjoyed the presentation. The way that Dr. Newton presented his thoughts was really helpful in learning about the martyrs. With the clarity he spoke and the passion he spoke, it really drew the audience in.”