ROME – The example offered by martyrs gives Christians hope and inspires strength, setting down a path for being witnesses to the Gospel and repudiating violence, the pope said.
“Christians love, but they are not always loved back,” Pope Francis said to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square June 28, adding that Jesus warned his disciples about the hostility they would encounter when he said “you will be hated by everyone because of me.” (Mt. 10:22)
Speaking at his last weekly general audience before taking a short break for the summer, the pope said that Christian men and women are “nonconformist” because they are called to proclaim the Gospel in a world of sin and injustice.
Francis offered two main admonishments for Christians. The first was poverty, so that the faithful may walk through life with only the essential but with a heart full of love.
“A Christian who is not humble and poor, detached from riches and power and especially detached from himself, is not like Jesus,” Pope Francis said.
The second word of warning refers to falling into the temptation of vengeance and violence. “To defeat evil one cannot use evil methods,” Francis said, adding that the only weapons at the Christian’s disposal are caution and sometimes shrewdness.
Thus, Christians are seemingly naked and defenseless, without riches or weapons, before persecution and hostility. “The only strength of the Christians is the Gospel,” the pope reassured. “In times of hardship, one must believe that Jesus stands before us and he does not cease to accompany his disciples.”
Francis reminded Christians that God sees every pain and suffering endured by man, even those that might seem hidden or insignificant, and he will offer his reward.
“Among us there is Someone who is stronger than evil, stronger than the Mafias, than dark plots, than those who profit on the skin of the desperate, than those who oppress others with arrogance,” Pope Francis said.
“Christians must always be found on the “other side” of the world, the one chosen by God: not persecutors, but persecuted; not arrogant, but gentle; not liars, but subjected to the truth; not impostors, but honest.”
Early Christians called this type of devotion to Jesus martyrdom, a word meaning witness. But charity, meaning love for God and our neighbor is the highest Christian ideal, not martyrdom, the pope emphasized.
This is why “Christians are disgusted by the idea that suicide bombers may be called ‘martyrs’: there is nothing about their end that can be likened to the behavior of the children of God,” the pope said.
The strength demonstrated by martyrs throughout the centuries is an inspiration for Christians today to model their life on Christ. In this sense, the pope said, “every Christian is a “martyr,” a witness to the sure hope that faith inspires.”
The pope concluded the audience by asking those martyrs who even today lay down their lives for the faith, to guide us with their example and intercession.