Martyrs of Conscience and Our Fierce Fortnight for Freedom
Kids in high school often invent their own language and terminology. One can never seem to trace exactly who started it. (Although my son has a t-shirt that says SMYF – “Stay Mellow, Young Fellow”- by his buddy and future fashion mogul, Beau Vowels.) Sometime in junior year we started saying that something “cool” was no longer “wicked” or “sick” but “fierce” or even “most fierce.” Disregarding the true superlative, fiercest, “most fierce” became the highest compliment possible.
A friend of mine, Catholic to the bone, thought it should follow the “reverend, right reverend, most reverend” structure of the clergy. So things started to be “right fierce,” if they weren’t quite “most fierce.” But it reached an apex when, a year or so after John Paul II’s first visit to the US, we started referring to him as “His Ferocity.” It was a tribute to his ability to connect with us. None of our parents was even “fierce.”
The word “fierce” comes from the Latin word for a wild animal (we also get “feral” from it.) In Italian, it spawned too adjectives, one “feroce” is more animal and wild; the other, “fiero,” which can mean “proud” in the sense of taking pride in something, has a connotation of “bold” and can be applied to persons who are not out of control, but very much in control.
In his Angelus message on Sunday, Pope Francis spoke of Jesus’ message that we must “lose our lives” in order to find them. He said that to lose one’s life for the Gospel “can happen in two ways: explicitly, confessing the faith, or implicitly, defending the truth.” He spoke of the martyrs as the ultimate examples of losing one’s life for Christ:
“Think about this: how many dads and moms put their faith into practice every day, offering their lives, concretely, for the good of the family! Let’s think about them! How many priests, religious brothers and sisters carry out their service for the Kingdom of God with generosity! How many young people sacrifice their own interests to dedicate themselves to children, the handicapped, the elderly… They are also martyrs! Everyday martyrs, martyrs of the quotidian!”
Until July 4th, together with our bishops we are celebrating the second annual Fortnight for Freedom. What a great opportunity to lose our lives for Christ, in the sense of witnessing to the truth. We are bearing witness to the fact that religious freedom is God-given, and cannot be taken away by any government, especially by a government that was established by a Declaration of Independence which bases its claims on God-given rights!
Pope Francis ended his Angelus message speaking about St. John the Baptist, whose birthday feast we celebrate on Monday. He stood firm against a king who was, by his actions, trying to re-define marriage. He witnessed to the truth that doing so went against God’s law. He was put in prison so that his voice of truth might be silenced. But that wasn’t enough. For his bold stand for the truth, he paid the ultimate price of matrydom.
“How many people pay a high price for their dedication to truth! How many upright persons prefer to go against the current so that they don’t deny the voice of their conscience, the voice of truth! Upright persons, who aren’t’ afraid to go against the current. And we, we should not be afraid! Among you there are many young people. To you young people I say: Do not be afraid of going against the current, when they want to rob our hope, when they propose for us values that are damaged, values like spoiled food when food goes bad, do us no good. These values do us harm. We must go against the current. And you young people, be first. Go against the current and have the boldness to go against it. Forward, be courageous and go against the current! And be bold to do it!”
Wow! And guess what word he used for “bold” and “boldness”? “Fiero” and “Fierezza.” So we have our marching orders for the Fortnight For Freedom. And we have them from His Ferocity himself!
So let’s be like St. John the Baptist and stand proud and be bold and make this Fortnight for Freedom, by our witness and daily martyrdom, truly “most fierce”!
(Translations of the Pope’s Angelus are my own. The official translation was not yet available.)