February 25, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

When martyrdom takes on personal meaning

From grade school on, we’ve read about patriots who fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War II. We’ve tried to imagine what it means to be threatened personally, and to actually sacrifice time, money and sometimes our lives in order to uphold the national principles we cherish.

Only after 9/11 did it dawn on most of us that we might be in a position where death and the destruction of our American way of life are not only possible, but also imminent. We may be the strongest nation on Earth, but we’re still vulnerable.

It’s much the same in religious matters. Unlike many Catholics and other Christians worldwide who’ve suffered oppression because of their beliefs, we’ve never really needed to consider being martyred for the faith. When the Gospel said we’d be persecuted for Christ, little did we think a time would come when it applied to us personally.

Well, guess what. That time appears to have come, at least if we’re paying ­attention to current trends and events.

Recently, I saw a segment of CBS-TV “Sunday Morning” on the subject of infidelity in relationships between men and women. When they took a poll on the street about who would more likely be unfaithful, a man or a woman, almost everyone answered “a man.” That would seem to agree with popular wisdom, including ideas found in books, movies and other cultural venues. It’s been the case since long before Hamlet dumped Ophelia or Stella Dallas suffered unceasingly as a “backstage wife.”

But, then the commentator pointed out that men no longer have a corner on the infidelity market. Television series such as “Sex in the City,” talk shows, movies and even forensic crime dramas constantly depict wives and girlfriends as perpetrators of illicit affairs, often abandoning their families in order to scratch some ­elusive itch.

All this is bad enough, I thought. But then, a woman—whose credentials I missed—declared that it’s about time women were as unfaithful as men are. At last, they’ve reached the same pinnacle of sexual freedom of expression that men enjoy, and they are to be congratulated.

While still digesting this, I read about a man who’s arguing strongly and at length that Abraham Lincoln was homosexual (being who he was, Lincoln can hardly be called “gay,” even by this person).

In fact, that is one of this fellow’s major arguments: that the reason Honest Abe was so sad and melancholy, and that his marriage was so unhappy, is because he was a closet homosexual. As evidence, the man cites letters that Lincoln wrote to men friends written in the florid, rather romantic style of the time.

He also mentions that Lincoln had a male roommate, and sometime bedmate, for long periods of time. Never mind that sharing beds was not uncommon on the frontier, or that same-sex friendships were considered the most appropriate for either gender.

It was almost enough to spoil Presi­dents Day for me, and Valentine’s Day, too. But, if martyrdom is to be my fate, I’m ready. I’ll stand up in public for fidelity, both male and female, and for Old Abe’s virtue, too. Just spare me the bloody torture, please.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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