I am always impressed by a story of the mother and her seven children narrated in 2 Maccabees, Chapter 7. In the account, the mother refuses to yield to the King's pressure to eat pork (a violation of God's law at the time), and is consequently forced to see each of her children tortured, killed and finally martyred.
Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance is this mother who, even after seeing her seven sons perish in a single day, bore the pain courageously because of her hope in the Lord. Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly reason with manly emotion, she exhorted each of them in the language of their ancestors with these words:
"I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law." (2 Maccabees 7:20-23)
What an extraordinary faith this holy woman had! Going against all maternal instincts to protect her children from suffering, she, thinking of the greater good and the eternal happiness of her children, encouraged them towards martyrdom! It makes me wonder how much I, as a mother, am preparing my children for an eventual martyrdom. I do not necessarily speak here of violent martyrdom, of giving one's life for the faith in Jesus Christ (although, in the difficult and extraordinary times in which we live, this is not such an absurd hypothesis) but perhaps a death to one's reputation, or a martyrdom of appearing fundamentalist, radical or crazy.
To what extent are our children, and we as parents, willing to give up the tranquility and peace of worldy teachings to live the radicalism required in following Jesus? This total surrender is only possible if we have a solid faith in the infinite love that God the Father has for each one of us, and that complete happiness will only be found when we arrive in Heaven. For this, we basically need two things: Incessant prayers for the gift of faith ("I believe, Lord, but increase my faith"), and a deepening of our knowledge of the life and teachings of Jesus.
We can only love those we know. We will only feel loved if we meditate on what Jesus did for us, did for me, when he gave himself freely to be tortured and killed on the cross. So it is important, beginning when our children are small, to show them how they are loved by God, how precious they are in the eyes of God, and how much Jesus suffered so that they could one day be in Heaven.
As our children grow, we must also encourage them to have a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord through personal prayer and attendance of the sacraments. After all, God has no grandchildren, only children. We must also study the doctrine of the Church, the reasons for our faith, and what causes we defend and oppose and why.
Our intelligence must be illuminated by the natural light of reason and the supernatural light of grace; the two go together. Our faith has a rational basis, in intelligence, it is not just a "feeling." Without nurturing the rational side of our faith, at the time of temptation when we need to justify it or take a firmer stand, we can fail.
"Faith and reason are like the two wings by which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth," teaches St. John Paul II. Our study of fatih and reason must always aim at the search for the Truth, which is Jesus Christ himself.
"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
In this way, with a life of prayer and the search for Truth, with the strength and the graces we receive through the sacraments (especially Confession and the Eucharist), we and our children will be prepared to face the difficulties that the world presents us--and even martyrdom, if it is so in our Father's loving plans.