In the days following the terrorist attack in the city where I live (San Bernardino), some experts on the news commented that the best way to defend yourself is to plan an exit strategy. If you’ve entered a restaurant, for example, they suggest you take note of where all the doors are so you are prepared to flee in case terrorists should attack.
Is this what we’ve come to in our society?
Actually, it’s not all that new. I’ve been reading Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, written by St. Thomas More in 1534 while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Apparently, during More’s time, there was a threat of a Muslim “invasion of the Turk and his persecution against the faith.” And so the saint spends some chapters discussing how individuals should prepare themselves should the case arise.
More points out that nothing should cause us to deny Christ. The loss of goods is no loss at all, since first: goods don’t make you good, and second: you’ll lose all of them anyway when you die. Imprisonment, he says, is the inability to go everywhere you want. But when you consider that even those out of jail can’t go everywhere they would like, the entire world is, in a sense, already a prison—quite a statement from a man locked away in the Tower.
But what most impressed me about More in this literary work is his insistence that we should have an “exit strategy,” that is, a resolve to die for the faith. We should, he claims, every day set our wills for martyrdom by taking some time to mentally ready ourselves for it.
So, if you’re in a restaurant that comes under attack, and you can’t get to one of the doors (even though you’ve been careful to note where they are), and somebody pointing a gun at you asks if you’re a Christian, you’ll be better prepared if you have every day resolved what to do in such a situation.
Now, I don’t think it’s very likely this will happen to me.
But martyrdom did happen to St. Thomas More, not from a Turkish invasion but from his own government. I assume he followed the same advice he preached and was ready to be beheaded by ax. I can see how this would have aided him in walking that distance from his cell to the chopping block, laying his head upon it, and joking that his beard should not be cut since it had committed no treason.
“Surely,” the saint wrote from his cell in the Tower, “the greatest comfort any man can have in his tribulation is to have his heart in Heaven.” Let’s hope we are never called upon to make so tremendous a sacrifice, but just in case we are, we too should be prepared by having our hearts already in Heaven.