The Solemnity of All Saints — the day on which the Catholic Church honors all the saints — is a little more than three weeks away. The feast’s original intent was to commemorate the Christian martyrs of the Roman Empire – those who gave their blood for Christ and who have lived lives of faithful holiness.
They deserve our honor.
But, others are deserving of honor, others who have not given their blood for Christ but are martyrs nonetheless. They are the so-called “white martyrs” who have lived their lives totally committed to God, united completely to him, and accepted and endured tremendous suffering while offering it up to God in union with the cross of Christ.
White martyrdom isn’t an official category of martyrdom in the church, but rather a pious classification. Examples of white martyr saints are Therese of Lisieux, Gianna Beretta Molla, and Pope John Paul II.
There are others. You’ve heard about, observed and associated with them. You might even have lived with them. The white martyrs I’m referring to are people who have gone before us after having lived holy lives of patient suffering. They are the people we know who have gone to heaven because of their unbridled love and faithfulness.
This All Saints Day, please honor the “red martyrs,” as they’re called – the ones who were murdered for their faith. But please honor the white martyrs who died to themselves for the sake of Christ, too.
Here are six white martyrs to honor:
1. The dads who got up every morning, went to work at a physically taxing and mentally demanding job, came home exhausted and yet still selflessly gave their all to their kids.
2. The mothers who joyfully served their families day in and day out, never slowing down, never allowing themselves to become overwhelmed by the seemingly endless amount of work.
3. The grandparents who refuse to give into helplessness or despair, even when their bodies fail them.
4. The men, women and children who lived with chronic disease or disability and really lived with it, rather than giving up and giving in to self-pity.
5. The clergy and consecrated religious who devoted themselves entirely to the People of God, giving heroically of their time and talent in order to serve God in others.
6. Those who saw their crushing heartaches, fatal illnesses, emotional turmoil or isolation as a means by which to grow closer to Christ and lead others to do the same.
I’m sure you could add to that list. We regularly encounter white martyrs. Sometimes we recognize them as white martyrs, sometimes we don’t. When we do recognize them, we should thank them for their daily, faithful witness to Christ. Then, we should pray for the grace to emulate them.
Absolutely, we should spend All Saints Day giving honor to all of the canonized saints who have gone before us. But we should also give honor – and gratitude – to all of the un-canonized saints who proclaim the Gospel through their living and being.
(Fenelon, a mother of four, and her husband, Mark, belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Visit her website: www.margefenelon.com.)