Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Pope Sixtus II and his martyred companions. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Valerian in the 3rd century, St. Sixtus endured persecution. He was taken prisoner while saying the Holy Mass and suffered red martyrdom with four of his deacons. He is listed in Eucharistic Prayer I in the Roman Canon. For more information on him and his companions, please see this link at New Advent.
It is providential that this post, I am to share with you from a former student in Texas, is coming this day. Like St. Sixtus and his companions, Gabby faced persecution this summer for being a Catholic. She now knows first hand what it is to be a white martyr (one who faces social persecution). White martyrdom has affected many of us before, especially those of us who teach the faith, religious symbols around our neck, or defend the faith in the public square.
In her post, Homesick, she explains to us what she experienced this summer at a debate camp. I will let her words speak for themselves…
Confirmation came for me the day of Pentecost. I was overwhelmed with excitement and more than willing to offer myself up for anything God had in store for me. I wanted to be his instrument, I wanted to defend the faith and be that “soldier” youth leaders told us we would be once the Bishop blessed us. Not too long after, God confronted me with a little more than I had anticipated.
For the summer, I signed up to study and practice the art of debate at the University of Texas for three weeks. I stayed in the dorms and met a lot of people from all over the country. It was not hard to make friends. After a few days, I was already going to small dorm gatherings with the students in my classes; but the way debaters are, we began discussing our opinions on a number of issues during various occasions. I learned very quickly that the newfound friends I had made and would be living with for the next three weeks had a different set of morals and beliefs than me, a catholic. I was more than shocked, shocked that the ideas they expressed could be accepted without any second thought, shocked that they could actually think sex before marriage was fine, and that smoking and doing drugs is okay as long as you use the “right kind of drugs.” These were students my age who were expressing their views, views so wrong according to my faith and morality in general.
I managed to finish the first week keeping quiet about everything; it was Sunday and I could not be any more excited to escape the filth I felt I was in and go to Mass. It was during Mass that I was reminded of what I had asked for at Confirmation, I could not stop myself from laughing. I told God he had a big sense of humor, putting me in this position when all along I thought His plan would be something simpler. I however did gain strength in Mass and felt ready to go back. I was not expecting, however, to go back to the jokes my new friends had lined up once they found out I left for church. I was now “church girl.” I had never been called that before, but I figured I would take it as a compliment. From that point on, I felt like there were eyes watching my every move, waiting for me to do something wrong. If I did one little thing, like cross the street a little before the light turned to “walk,” I was confronted with jokes such as, “I thought church girls are supposed to follow every rule. Isn’t it against your religion to do illegal things, jaywalker? You’re going to hell now aren’t you?” Or if I said something they did not believe, something as simple as, “I don’t like peanut butter and chocolate,” then I was a “liar and a sinner because everyone loves peanut butter and chocolate, so now, I’m going to hell.” Those kinds of jokes I just brushed off and said whatever to. Figured it wasn’t worth the fuss.
St. Catherine of Alexandria – Virgin and Martyr
It was not until my roommate asked me how I felt about gay marriage that I became a true “villain.” I told my roommate I believed marriage is between a man and a woman; I was straightforward and to the point, but the target I hit turned out to be a nuclear bomb. She began shouting in the middle of Subway that this country is a country with the principles of freedom of religion, and for me to say that a marriage should be between a man and woman is bias, racist, and makes me a hypocrite. I began to defend myself by explaining that I never once mentioned religion, I only stated my opinion; but I, the “church girl,” had spoken from my own limited mind set, according to my roommate, and was characterized as intolerant towards others. I stopped trying to defend myself when I realized my roommate was speaking and shouting without listening and there was no point trying to argue with a wall. Proverbs 29:11 states, “The fool gives vent to all his anger, but by biting his time the wise man calms it.”
A second week went by and again I went to church on Sunday. I was tired by then: emotionally drained, sleep deprived, and flat out homesick. When I got back to my dorm from Mass, I was invited to hang out with some friends before the debate rounds started. It was only a few of us but we began discussing the idea of religion. One of the guys was Jewish, but only by culture, not by faith. He did not believe in God and made fun of his family who prayed ritually. Before I knew it, Catholics were brought into the conversation. Red flags began flying in my head, I didn’t know if I would be able to handle any more ridicule, especially if it was directly aimed at my faith; so I took a deep breath and listened to what they had to say. I might have guessed they would mention the group of priests whom broke their promise of chastity. They argued that the Vatican was unfair and unjust in saving these priests from the real punishment they deserved; and because of the Vatican, Catholic priests can get away with anything. In all honesty, I was not prepared to rebuttal their argument, but I knew he did not understand a lot of what actually happened with these priests; the problem was that I did not entirely understand the issue. I became frustrated but finally just answered by saying that a priest does not make up an entire faith; the Catholic Church is made up of people, people who are imperfect (because if we were perfect then we would all be in Heaven, now, wouldn’t we) but that the faith is still strong and is in fact what holds the family together, the family that was started by Christ. I couldn’t say more than that, unfortunately, but I did finally break.
I was tired of the abuse and needed some advice. That’s when I decided to send an email to Mr. Perna. I explained the situation and asked him what I should do. His response was more than enough to help me regain the strength and confidence I needed to continue moving forward. He recommended I read Ephesians 6, a chapter in the Bible I felt was specifically written for this time in my life; it was perfect. All I needed was the armor of God, prayer, and obedience to God the Father, not the “rulers of the earth.” I finished those three weeks feeling proud, enlightened, tired, and relieved to finally be going home to my family and friends. A sense of reality struck me those three weeks, and it was unbelievable how easy it was to slowly creep into that filth. I felt alone, weak, vulnerable, but God was not slow to show me the family I do have fighting with the armor of God beside me. Catholics are at war, but a war that can most certainly and undeniably be won with God.
I only taught Gabby for one year at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School, but during that year I witnessed a young woman who is not afraid to live out her life as a Christian. At the end of this past year and in front of the Savio school community, I awarded Gabby with the underclassmen Theology Award. It is now clear why we chose her to receive the first underclassmen award in Savio history. She is already a powerhouse! With more time, prayer, and study in theological matters, Gabby Fuentes will soon become a great defender of the Catholic faith.