A martyr doesn’t enter battle seeking death, but enters battle with the will to risk his own life, in order to preserve life. It is the courage of such individuals that wins them the scorn of the enemy, the confusion of the wise, and the praise of the pious.
A good friend of mine, Joseph Martone, is such a man. In the fullest sense, he is a willing and living sign of what it truly means to be a Christian. He is a poor man, yet he gives whatever money he can to assist two pregnancy centers and a home for women to deliver their babies. He was crippled in a terrible accident that left him without the use of one arm and needing the assistance of a walker, yet he carries a sign proclaiming the truth about abortion on his walker to a local Planned Parenthood facility every single day. He has sustained a host of personal tragedies, and yet he spends a great deal of time before the Blessed Sacrament praying for an end to abortion, for his friends, for his enemies, and for whomever else God has directed him to pray. Joseph will be the first to tell you that he is no saint and in great need of regular use of the sacrament of confession, yet through his humility the light of Christ’s glory shines brighter than in any other individual I have had the privilege to know.
But, as the saying goes, no good turn goes unpunished. In addition to the heavy personal cross Joseph carries, he has endured multiple beatings at the hands of abortion advocates, he’s been spat upon, cursed at, and threatened—all because he stands in stark defense of preborn babies. Most recently, vandals broke into his trailer and poured paint on his couch, smashed his television set, threw coffee grounds and mayonnaise jars in his laundry machine, slashed his bedspread and sports coat, pulled over book cases, and poured cooking oil all over the place. While some friends have helped him clean up and are providing a place to sleep for a while, others suggested he stop what he is doing or carry a “nicer” sign.
And that’s where the devil is. When Jesus announced to his disciples that he was going to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again on the third day, Peter strongly objected and Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus called Peter “Satan” for tempting Jesus to reject the cross! And here in our lives, our friends full of misguided compassion for us urge us to reject our crosses, too.
After Joseph told me what had happened, I said to him, “God is using you the way an artist uses a favorite brush. At the end of the day, it is the unused brushes that look pristine, while the used brushes are frayed, wet, spotted with paint, and eventually worn out.”
It is when we suffer most at the hands of the wicked that we can be certain we are closest to Christ. It is the surest sign that we are united with Him in His sufferings on the cross, for He said, “No slave is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
Joseph’s story reminds me a story told by the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. He told the story of a young woman who had a little girl. The woman’s hands were covered in scars, and while she and her daughter were washing dishes one afternoon, the little girl asked, “Mommy, what happened to your hands?” Her mother responded, “When you were a baby, there was a fire in the house, and your crib caught on fire. I reached into the crib and pulled you out, badly burning my hands.” The little girl looked up at her and said, “I love your scars.”
My friend is not a martyr. Not yet, anyway. But he has wonderful scars. We should all be lucky to bear such scars, because I am sure that, at the end of his life, he will be greeted by a multitude of children who will surround him and say to him, “Joseph, we love your scars.”
Michael Hichborn is director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith project.