I want to say a few words about St Edward, our parish patron, whose feast day it is on Monday. In particular, I want to say a few words about why he is called a “martyr”, and why it is right to call him a martyr. Because people sometimes say it doesn’t make much sense to call him a martyr. In fact, lots of people have said this to me. In fact, if I had a penny for every time someone has said this to me, I’d have enough money to rebuild the Abbey!
Well, to start with, What does the word, ‘martyr’ mean? It means ‘witness’, a witness to Christ.
Now this doesn’t just mean that you must die DIRECTLY for Christ Himself -in fact the Tradition has always acknowledged that to die for what Christ asked of us, to die for His laws, to die for His Gospel, to die for Church, is truly to die for Him.
So, from the very beginning, the Church has used this title ‘martyr’ for those who were killed for what Christ taught. For example, in Britain, we frequently hail our martyrs of the Reformation, who were killed for their devotion to the Mass and to the Papacy –two things Christ gave us. Another example, St John the Baptist was killed because he witnessed to the fact that adultery is a sin, and Herod was committing adultery, and Herod killed him. And this was martyrdom, because CHRIST asks us to be moral and to die for the moral life is to die for Christ.
Many people respond to good people by being edified by their goodness, inspired by it. But it is also possible to look at a good man and feel angry, spiteful, vengeful. To cover up our own sin by hating someone who does NOT sin. “The wicked man plots against the virtuous and grinds his teeth at him”(Ps 37:12). We heard an example of that in our first reading from Jeremiah 20:10: “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” Why? Because Jeremiah was living a good life and called on others to do the same.
To be killed out of this form of hatred is one of the classical forms of martyrdom. That’s why a great many of the early martyrs were hailed by the people of their time as martyrs even though it was their LIFESTYLE not necessarily their words that led others to kill them.
When St Edward was killed, the people of his day might of reacted in many ways. They might have said, ‘Well, that’s one more rich selfish king dead.’
But instead, they hailed him as a ‘martyr’ –and I think the people of his day knew his context and the motives behind his killing better than we can claim to know them today. And they could see two clear motives behind his death:
(1) The people of his day recognised that he was killed by EVIL people who hated him for his saintly life.
(2) Further, they recognised that he was killed by people who hated the fact that he stood with the Church and for the Catholic Church despite the many political manoeuvrings of his day against the Church.
To die for loyalty to Christ’s Church, to die for loyalty to Christ’s gifts of the Papacy and the Mass; to die for the moral life Christ calls us to –all these are examples of dying for Christ. All these are examples of martyrdom.
Where is St Edward now? Well, his bones, as we know, are a matter of dispute.
But his soul is in glory in Heaven, and he witnessed, he martyred –because martyr means witness –he witnessed to the truth of what we heard Christ say in today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10: 28). Despite being a young man, he was clearly “not afraid”, or least he overcame his fear, and lived as he ought.
What does St Edward teach us today? Not least, he teaches us the reward of a good life, and that to live a good life publicly is to witness to Christ.
St Edward lived a good life “in the presence of men” (to use a phrase from the Gospel), and because of that Christ declared Himself “for him in the presence of [His] Father in heaven”.
It is never easy to live a good life, even though a life of sin brings even more problems and difficulties, even so, it is never easy to live a good life. But to live a good life for Christ will bring its rewards for us just as it did for our parish patron: St Edward, King and Martyr.
Accompanying Newsletter item:
SAINT EDWARD, KING AND MARTYR, b. 962; d. 18 March, 978
Feastday: June 23rd (formerly, March 18th)
St Edward, son of Edgar the Peaceful, and uncle of St Edward the Confessor, became king at the early age of 13 and reigned for only 3 years. He was murdered outside Corfe Castle by his stepmother. He was considered to be very saintly and on his death was hailed by the people as a martyr.
Why is he called a ‘martyr’? It might be thought that only those who are killed by unbelievers can be called martyrs for Christ, however, many of the ‘martyrs’ died for the Christian Faith in a broader sense. Thus St John the Baptist is called a martyr because he died proclaiming that adultery is a sin. Similarly, the English Reformation martyrs died for the truth about the Mass and the Pope, not explicitly for Christ. In a similar vein, there are two reasons why the people of his day recognised St Edward as a martyr:
(1) He lived a holy life and was killed by those who were unholy. As Scripture repeatedly recalls, the wicked hate the virtuous and conspires against him because the life of the virtuous is a reproach to the sinner and fills him with envy: “The wicked man plots against the virtuous and grinds his teeth at him”(Ps 37:12).
(2) He defended the Church and it was the enemies of the Church who opposed him and ultimately killed him.
In considering the appropriateness of the title ‘martyr’, it is reasonable to conclude that those who lived then and knew both him and the circumstances of his death were better placed than we are to judge that it was right to declare him ‘martyr’.
His stepmother later repented of her evil deed and embraced a life of prayer and penance, ending her days in a monastery. This surely stands as a magnificent example of the possibility of repentance, presumably wrought by the prayers of the young martyr himself. Many miracles are said to have been obtained through his intercession.