* Apoc. vii.9.
See that beautiful army of martyrs -- these brave soldiers of Jesus Christ -- who died or Him, and like him, in the midst of the most cruel torments. Theirs is truly "a crown of justice." They are represented as holding palms in their hands, in token of the victory which they gained over the world. Their intimate union with God, the dazzling splendor of their personal appearance, the high honors conferred upon them, single them out at once as those champions of the faith who, while on earth, served God in a heroic degree. And they certainly served Him with distinction; for they proved their love by laying down their lives for Him. Laying down one's life for God has always been looked upon as the most perfect act of love possible; for "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."* Hence, the martyrs, as a class, have always been considered as deserving the highest honors of heaven.
* John xv.18.
The beautiful words of the Holy Ghost in reference to all the just apply with peculiar force to the martyrs: "But the souls of the just are in the hand of God: and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery: and their going away from us for utter destruction; but they are in peace. And though in the sight of men they suffered torments, their hope is full of immortality. Afflicted in a few things, in many they shall be rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, He hath proved them; and as the victim of a holocaust, he hath received them."*
* Wis. iii.
What a bright and beautiful crowd they are! As a garden is beautified by flowers, so is heaven made more beautiful by the radiant crimson-clad army of martyrs. Here is St. John the Baptist, the fearless precursor of Jesus. Here is the glorious St. Stephen, the first who laid down his life after the ascension of Jesus. Here are the holy Apostles, those intrepid soldiers of Christ, who went forth from the council, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. The prediction of their Divine Master was verified in them: "For they shall deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake. . . . And you shall be hated by all men for my sake."* . . . "Yea, the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth a service to God."+
* Matt. x. + John xvi.
But in spite of all this hatred and persecution, they sowed the seed of the word of God in the hearts of men, and watered it with their own blood. They now enjoy a peculiar glory in heaven; for, besides the glory which belongs to them as martyrs, they also enjoy that which belongs to them as Apostles, promised to them in these words of our blessed Lord: "Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the seat of His majesty, you shall also sit on twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."*
* Matt. xix.28.
Here are also so many holy Popes, and bishops, and priests, the worthy successors of the Apostles, who, like them, joyfully laid down their lives for the love of Jesus Christ. Here is also that countless multitude of holy missionaries, who, like the Apostles, went forth into all nations to preach the gospel. They, too, were "brought before governors, and before kings," and sealed their faith with their blood. Here, too, are holy virgins, who preferred death, in all its horrid shapes, rather than stain their souls, or have another spouse besides Jesus, to whom they had consecrated themselves. The grace of God changed them from timid, retiring virgins, into dauntless heroines, and enabled them to suffer death with superhuman courage and constancy. Here are also married men and women, fathers and mothers, who loved God more than they loved their children. Here, even, are little children, who astounded the heartless tyrants by the admirable patience and heroism which they displayed amidst the most refined cruelties. Here, too, are venerable old men and women, who, in spite of the infirmities of age, ascended the scaffold with a firm step, and suffered death with undaunted constancy. All these, like St. Paul, have fought a good fight, and all, without exception, have received a "crown of justice" at the hands of a just Judge. They all enjoy the high rewards which Jesus promised to His heroic followers, when he said: "Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake: rejoice, and be exceeding glad: because your reward is very great in heaven."*
* Matt. v.
But, before leaving these to consider the glory of others, we must remark that, although they are all martyrs, they do not, on that account, all enjoy the same degree of glory. They are all stars; but "star differeth from star in glory." Each martyr is clothed in his own brightness, which is great in proportion to the intensity of his love for God, and the amount of suffering endured for Him. Some were simply put to death, without any additional torture. Others were imprisoned, scourged, and then put to death; while others again were tortured for days, weeks, and even months, with the most frightful torments. Again, some came to their martyrdom totally devoid of any previous virtue; some even loaded with sin, and unbaptized: but they received a baptism of blood -- which made them pure, and deserved for them the high honors of heaven. Nevertheless, the glory that surrounds such is far inferior to that which surrounds those who, like St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Andrew, and a host of others, came to their martyrdom loaded with the merits of a life spent in the practice of heroic virtue.