The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary gives its first definition of the word “martyr” as the one pertaining to faith: “a person who is killed or who suffers greatly for a religion, cause, etc.”
Another description: “Sacred Scripture attests to the courage of men and women who were willing to die as martyrs rather than renounce their faith or be unfaithful to God’s law.”1
It’s pretty straight forward. A martyr is a person who is killed by someone else for refusing to say or do anything contrary to his beliefs.
Yet we see other views. Some declare that a person is a martyr when he commits suicide in the process of killing others in the name of his religion. Impossible. Suicide is an objectively evil deed. True, the state of that person’s soul is known only by God.2 However, no such act can be glorified by assigning the respected title of martyr to the perpetrator because “suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope and charity. It is forbidden by the fifth commandment.”3 In addition:
“Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. [emphasis added] Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.”4
So, the next time someone claims martyrdom for a suicide bomber or for anyone who is killed while murdering others in the name of a religion or other cause (including the mass murderer in Dallas last week5), don’t accept that distorted use of the word.
1 – “What is the Church’s Teaching on Martyrdom?” http://catholicstraightanswers.com/what-is-the-churchs-teaching-on-martyrdom/
2 – Summary of Paragraph 2283 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 25th printing, November, 2013.
3 – Paragraph 2325, Ibid.
4 – Paragraphs 2280-2281, Ibid.
5 – “The first black woman crowned Miss Alabama is standing by a controversial video in which she called the Dallas gunman a ‘martyr — but admits it was a poor choice of words.” From “Former Miss Alabama Admits She Shouldn’t Have Called Dallas Gunman ‘a Martyr’… But Won’t Pull Video,” http://www.insideedition.com/headlines/17473-former-miss-alabama-admits-she-shouldnt-have-called-dallas-gunman-a-martyr-but-wont-pull, 7/12/2016.