“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 ¡Viva 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.