“Oh Steve,” laughed my friend Hilda on the phone, “you think God wants you to be lonely, don’t you?”

This was a couple of years ago, in Dallas. I was visiting UD over spring break and savoring the feeling of being surrounded by old friends, and had been wondering out loud whether it might not be good to live in a place where I actually knew people.

Hilda has a very wry way of being compassionate. She laughed at me because she is very familiar with the brand of short-sightedness that we both share: it’s easy to forget that God wants you to be happy, especially when you are used to thinking of yourself as a martyr.

Well, there’s martyrs and there’s martyrs. The readings at Mass these past few days, from Maccabees, have been full of them.1 Yesterday there was the woman who watches her seven sons die in front of her, exhorting the youngest: “Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.”

Today there was Mattathias, who defies the king to his face, overturns the pagan altar, and runs through the city shouting, “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and who stands by the covenant follow after me!”

These people have something in common, besides their fidelity to God’s commandments even in the face of death. It is this: they are extremely badass.2 Badassery is one of the most overlooked characteristics of martyrs. Sure, there’s the self-abnegation and the discipline and the years of stolid persistence in the way of the Lord, but there’s also the ┬íViva Cristo Rey! of Miguel Pro in front of the firing squad, and St. Lawrence’s hard-to-top “Turn me over, I’m done on this side” while the Romans roasted him.

My point isn’t that every second of the Christian life is packed with swashbuckling and romance.3 It’s this: God wants real men, not a bunch of sallow-faced nicelings.4

Celibacy is a kind of martyrdom, no mistake — just ask the woman whose husband runs off with another woman (or man), leaving her to deal with the fact that they are still married and always will be — but being a martyr doesn’t mean sitting around and working up a good head of self-pity, the better to offer up your oh-so-poignant-pain. It means courage, fire, zeal, and not a little chutzpah.

That courage can be a challenge for men with SSA, because many of us are easily cowed by the thought of rejection. Will I stay in and watch TV by myself, or will I call a friend, even if he might be busy? Will I accept the invitation to play basketball after work, or will I make up an excuse so I don’t have to risk the embarrassment? When I hear the guys next door making a ruckus, will I knock on their door with a couple of beers or will I go to bed and feel sorry for myself?

Whichever I choose on any given day, this is always true: SSA is a cross, but cowardice is not. Some things are meant to be endured, and some things are meant to be overcome. Like the alcoholics say: Lord, grant us the wisdom to know the difference.

1 I mean the second kind.
2 For some reason I think Marc Barnes, of the Bad Catholic blog, would appreciate this paragraph.
3 Although, really, the more the better.
4 That’s a real word because I say so.

33 thoughts on “Cowardice Is Not a Cross

  1. Dan S.

    Great insight. Thanks for sharing because there is wisdom in what you say. I pray for the courage for everyone to LIVE the wisdom we receive, because, living it is the hard part.

    Reply
  2. Juanito

    This post resonated with me. Every morning I pray to the Virgin Father, St. Joseph to pray for me to be more like him, the ideal man. I also pray to that badass stud St. Christopher who sought to follow the ultimate Intrepid Master. I may not be able to change for good, the effite mannerisms that sometimes emerge, but as Steve mentioned, I can get over myself, or die to myself as it were, and try to overcome the things that I can reasonably expect to overcome. Thanks for a good post!

    Reply
  3. Babs

    These words, just yes. I am learning, how wimpy we all ate now. People are shocked to hear that I loathe pregnancy, but am open to a large family. Well, geez, 9 months of suffering in exchange for a human being seems like a feaking bargain to me! When did women become so wimpy?

    Reply
  4. Theresa Zoe

    Definitely think Marc Barnes would appreciate that paragraph. In fact, his most recent post and this post are the 2 single greatest things I have read of recent memory and have answered questions I have been asking for a long time. Fantastic post!

    Reply
  5. Ron

    My favorite martyrdom story: Saint Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna in modern-day Turkey,martyred in the year 156 at age 86. When the judge demanded that he renounce Jesus Christ and the Faith, Polycarp responded, “For eighty-six years I have served Jesus Christ and he has never abandoned me. How can I curse my blessed King and Savior?” Now that’s badass!

    Reply
  6. Joe

    Steve,

    I always feel like I should say something to let you know exactly how on your posts are (to make sure you keep doing them and all), but after a certain number of times it feels repetitive saying things like “this is exactly my life” again and again. But again, This is Exactly My Life. There’s actually something a little weird about someone else describing your life so accurately—especially when you’re just not used to it at all.

    This is the one thing I struggle with most in my everyday life, though. It usually goes like this: “Do I talk to that guy because I think he’d make a good friend? He’s a cool guy; we have a lot in common. He’s not even gay.” “NO, it’s too big of a risk; what kind of martyr would you be if you weren’t miserable all the time? Just go home and be alone.” I can usually break out of all that, but it’s a terrible place to be.

    Reply
  7. Katie

    Steve,

    A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to your article (blog?) on Little Catholic Bubble from back in July…which lead me here to your website. I just wanted to let you know how amazing I thought it was…articulate, passionate, witty and a great representation of the Catholic Church.

    God bless and keep up the good work being a contemporary Catholic badass. :) I will certainly be praying for you!

    ~Katie

    Reply
  8. savvy

    Thanks for sharing this Steve. I am discerning a vocation to the religious life, and a lot of my family and friends just don’t get it. Some of them think, I am stone mad. There are so many things I could say, but it would all boil down to a love the world cannot give me.

    Please take a look at my blog, where I document my discernment journey.

    http://learningtotrustgod.wordpress.com/

    Reply
  9. elizabeth m.

    I’m very grateful for your blog–more than I can say. I am a parent of a son who has recently told me of his SSA. I have found your comments immensely helpful, and the interview you did with Sonja Corbett particularly useful in understanding –or at least making a hard effort at understanding– him. I especially appreciated your insight into how it feels to someone who has SSA to deal with the rest of the world, explaining the in-your-face and sometimes angry attitudes. I especially appreciate your discussion of how the Church often appears to those who must navigate this. I don’t seem to be able to make a very good case for the Church or for the existence of God. I get awfully tongue tied and my son is not keen on God or the Church right now. So I just keep loving him as best I can and praying. Having found your site, I don’t feel quite so in the wilderness. Please keep these wonderful posts coming. God bless you and thank you.

    Reply
  10. Brother B

    Incredible post!!! The martyrs are badass? WHOO HOOO! I would never have put those two words in the same sentence before! I may have to use that some day when I am giving a conference to youth or young adults. I often like to talk about young Rachel Scott, martyred at Columbine, and how she said to the kid who shot her (when he asked if she was a Christian), “You know that I am.”

    Fearless. Hope I can take a tip from you next time I am lonely and feeling sorry for myself, and call a friend or one of the brothers, and get some positive vibes going.

    Keep the faith!
    Brother B+

    Reply
  11. savvy

    St. Elizabeth of Hungry, another bad ass character. The Queen who was getting into trouble for bringing all the poor into the palace. After her husband’s death, when she was kicked out, she took off all her clothes in front of the whole palace to say, “I don’t need the gowns or wealth.”

    Reply
  12. Mark from PA

    Perhaps compassionate would be a better term to use here. Loving one’s neighbor as oneself. We need more of this in our country today.

    Reply
  13. E C Y

    um, Juanito… St Joseph, foster father of Our Lord, was not a Virgin Father. when he married the Mother of God, he was already a widower with children.

    Reply
  14. Chad

    This is an awesome post. Calling a friend even though he might be busy, playing basketball, having the strength to fit in with a group of guys instead of giving in to self-pity…I’m 28, Catholic and celibate with SSA, and I have to say those examples are exactly right. I’ve had to make those same choices too over and over again. Having the courage to be a man, and to be chaste isn’t easy but it sure is rewarding. Thanks for your posts.

    Reply
  15. Lindsey

    Awesome post! I’m adding you to my blog roll. I just like the way you write, and I appreciate how you share of yourself here!

    Reply
  16. Tory

    Wow.

    I just stumbled across your blog for the first time … and my first thought was “What? There are others like me?” The timing of it is incredible – just this morning I met with my priest for spiritual direction about SSA.

    I’m 22, Catholic and have struggled with SSA since adolescence. I’ve fallen a couple of times, but am slowly learning how to carry my cross. And what you wrote here was so fitting – like Chad in the comments, I completely agree with your comment about the small things and their ability to induce self-pity.

    I’ll remember you and all like us in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament when I go later this evening (my favorite way to stave off loneliness).

    Reply
  17. Lacy

    Steve,
    Having graduated from UD myself I am well-aware of the effects of being around a solid support group of friends and stalwart Catholics, and how sometimes that’s the only thing that keeps you afloat in times of distress. With that in mind, know that you’ll be lifted up in my prayers this week as we both struggle with loneliness and the appropriate boundaries of martyrdom.

    God bless.

    Reply
  18. albert

    I just can’t find the right supperlatives to describe tgis Stevee. Thanks so much for your blogs, may God give me your kind of strength, Amen.

    Reply
  19. xen

    Thanks Steve for your post. A lot of people ridicule self-sacrifice now, saying (with a sneer) “So you want to be a martyr now?” It’s not the norm to deny oneself nowadays. Whatever feels good is right. That’s what prevails. So I love how how describe saints as “badass.” Yes truly, it takes guts to stand up for what one believes in. We all have to take after Jesus. When Jesus carried the cross, He did not wallow in self pity. The women cried for Him, but He asked them not to. If only I could remind myself often enough. :)

    Reply
  20. Paul Delgadillo

    All my life I have started things and then stopped. I am going through a rough period of spiritual desolation and I have a hard time, because I end up praying more than our parish priest does. The gym is the greatest challenge I face all day but I make myself go and every time I go I walk away feeling better. Same thing with spending time alone with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. St. Ignatius of Antioch stated that it was his daily reading and reflecting on the Passion of Our Lord that gave him the desire and passion to suffer for Him in turn. I am going to follow his example and allow the Holy Spirit to turn me into a badass person with SSA. Thank you for your post.

    Reply

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