At our SFO meeting last week, I started the Candidacy lessons (though I will not be officially accepted as a novice until, God willing, next meeting). Then I joined the rest of the group to talk about the writings of St. Francis, which they are studying as part of ongoing formation.
They were talking about Chapter XVI of the "Earlier Rule." This chapter concerns "Those who are going among the Saracens and other nonbelievers."
One person pointed out that the chapter deals with those who are placing themselves in situations in which they might become martyrs for the faith. The person lamented that we don't have those opportunities as easily today, and implied that we are somehow "weaker" for not seeking out martyrdom ourselves.
I pointed out that the rule was for the members of the first order, not us SFOs. We Secular Franciscans have vocations as lay people, husbands, parents, and workers in the world, and we are not as free to seek martyrdom deliberately (though we might face it anyway).
I also noted that we face different kinds of martyrdom. Whenever we stand up for the our faith, whenever we defend the Church, whenever will live as Catholics in the world, we proclaim the faith, and we face possible persecution. We might be ridiculed, or subject to constant verbal attacks, close scrutiny, knowing looks, and so on.
I reported that recently, for example, I had been drawn into a debate with others over the papacy, Africa, AIDs, birth control and condoms at a gathering after my father's funeral! (My mind was understandably distracted; I don't think I did as good a job as I should have.)
The portion of the rule we were discussing says one way to witness is "not to engage in arguments or disputes, to be subject to every human creature for God's sake (1 Pet 2:13) and to acknowledge that (we) are Christians." So simply by living according to the faith and not being afraid to admit what we are, we are "preaching" - and we might be persecuted. At the simplest level we might be labeled as a "religious fanatic," and thus in that way dismissed.
I am one of those prone to arguing and disputing, though I lack the knowledge and patience to do so effectively at times. I should not stop doing that when I can do so in an appropriate way, but I also need to remember that I can preach by simply living out my faith. I need to remember that if I have a reputation as a believer, I have to be careful that all of my words and actions are in keeping with the teachings of the faith and the example of St. Francis.
Pax et bonum