Catholics striving to remain in fidelity to the “greatest treasure” of their Catholic faith must be prepared for martyrdom as they witness before not only pagans and unbelievers but also other Catholics who have become heretics, said Kazakhstan Bishop Athanasius Schneider in a talk.
Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, gave the keynote talk Thursday at The International Conference on Population Control. The online symposium was aimed at addressing the threat of population control and examining how radical enemies of life are working to undermine and subvert the Catholic Church. The event was hosted by The Lepanto Institute.
The Bishop, in his talk titled “Catholic faith and martyrdom,” told participants that Our Lord promised: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
“These words of Our Lord are a holy task for every Christian. To be faithful means to keep the faith, which is infused in our soul by the Triune God, in all its integrity, purity and beauty without changing nothing, without adding nothing to its unchangeable truths,” he said.
Schneider said that when a Catholic does not keep the faith, he enters into heresy.
“Heresy as infidelity to the faith … Unlike a true Catholic the heretic accepts still some dogmas, yet only on the base of his own will and his own judgment,” he said.
He said that sins against keeping the faith “are the greatest moral sins, except the sins against the Divine virtue of hope and love.”
The Bishop said faithful Catholics should not be alarmed to see that “fidelity in the Catholic faith remains usually a minority phenomenon.”
Of the minority, some might be called to martyrdom as a witness to the truth of the faith.
He quoted St. Thomas Aquinas: “Martyrs are so called as being witnesses, because by suffering in body unto death they bear witness to the truth; not indeed to any truth, but to the truth which is in accordance with godliness, and was made known to us by Christ: wherefore Christ’s martyrs are His witnesses. Now this truth is the truth of faith. Wherefore the cause of all martyrdom is the truth of faith.”
Some martyrs are called to witness to the truths of the faith before other Christians who have abandoned the faith, he said.
“The fidelity to the Catholic faith and Christian martyrdom not only demands the fearless confession of the Divine truth before the pagans and unbelievers, but even before heretical Christians,” he said.
Schneider gave the example of Sir John Burke of Brittas in Ireland, who, in the beginning of the 17th century, witnessed to the truths of the Catholic faith with his death at the hands of other Christians.
One Sunday morning in the castle of John Burke there gathered Catholics to assist the Holy Mass celebrated by a clandestine priest. However the civil authorities were informed by a traitor. Suddenly a troop of soldiers surrounded the house, where the Holy Mass had to be celebrated.
The captain asked to be admitted.
The only answer returned by Sir Burke was, that he might enter freely when if he would prepare to make his confession and urge his companions to do the like; otherwise they should remain outside, for unbelievers should not have a share in what was holy, nor should sacred things be cast to dogs or pearls set before swine.
Burke could eventually escape and flee, later however he was captured. When he was on trial in the public court, the president of the court declared that he would treat him with every kindness if he obeyed the wish of the King in all that related to faith and religion, otherwise he would sentenced to death. Yet John Burke was bold unmoved.
He then listened to the sentence of death with a cheerful countenance, and only answered that he was glad those who harmed his body in such a way had no power over his soul.
He added a few words in which he declared his aversion to heretical doctrines and opinions, and his heartfelt desire to obey the teaching of Catholic Church in whose communion he declared he wished to die. When coming to the place of execution, he asked to be set down, in order that he might approach it on his knees, and this was allowed him.
John Burke showed as much contentment and joy as if he was going to a sumptuous feast. In the last moment he was offered pardon, restitution of his lands, and preferment, if he would take the oath recognizing the supremacy of the King in religion and assist Protestant worship. He said that he would not for all the world offend God, he would not exchange heaven for earth, and that he renounced and abominated all that the Catholic Church has always repudiated and condemned. John Burke died in December of the year 1607 in Limerick