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The Light of the Martyrs’ Lives


Christ taught us regarding himself: I am the way. 

undset12123 Sigrid Undset

Therefore the way to heaven should be heaven for those who love him.  In the official language of the Catholic Church the expression martyr means a man or a woman who chooses to die a violent death rather than deny the Christian faith.  The fact that the saints have been so willing to suffer, that they often in fact seemed to be in love with suffering and chose it as their inheritance on earth, is often looked upon by non-Catholics as incomprehensible, and in the eyes of many, extremely unsavory. 

If God is goodness, if Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins, why should Christians have to suffer — and suffer not merely ordinary opposition, which may have an educational value for the sufferer, but though innocent suffer for others’ sins?  We may all, at any moment, find that we have to suffer for what in our eyes are exclusively the sins of others.  Two world wars, and their aftermath, spread over almost the whole of the world should have made this truth understandable — emphatically understandable….

Since Jesus Christ redeemed mankind with his precious blood we can be saved if we are willing to let him save us.  But even Saint Paul had to point out to the Colossians that Christ’s sufferings sometimes overflow into our life, so that we in our flesh may be forced to fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ….

The saints have always known that the power of good is something quite incalculable.  When they renounced even pure and harmless happiness on earth, that they might have none of the hindrances interposed by care for their own or another’s material needs, in their struggle to achieve unity with the Origin of life, they knew that if he filled them with his grace and mercy, his superfluous gifts — gifts bringing health and life — would overflow into the lives of other men.



Sigrid Undset. "The Light of the Martyrs' Lives." from Catherine of Siena. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009).

Reprinted with permission of Ignatius Press. 

The Author

undset33Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) was a Norwegian novelist. She became a Roman Catholic in 1924, after which her work deepened in religious intensity. Her masterpiece, Kristen Lavransdatter (3 vol, 1920-22), tells a graphic story of love and religion in 14th-century Norway. She was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1928. Sigrid Undset is the author of Catherine of SienaKristin Lavransdatter (in 3 volumes), The Master of Hestvike (in 4 volumes), and Jenny.

Copyright © 2009 Ignatius Press
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