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A True Believer
On the corner of Quinn and Hill, where the Atlantic Ocean lapped against the ridged coastline, there sat a young woman on a bench with a box at her feet. Thunder rolled from the murky clouds overhead and the pitter-patter of rain reached her ears before it actually fell on her fair, delicate skin. Lightning weaved itself in and out of the clouds and bolted down to the ground all around. Still she remained, unaffected by the impending storm. As far as she was concerned, the end of the world had already come.
Earlier that day, Lauren Stone had rolled out of bed at seven, eaten a couple Grands!Ò biscuits with butter and jelly, finished off her black as black can be coffee, and ran to the subway to get to the New York Times. She was the first one at work, just as she had planned. They had recently been covering the story of the President’s new proposed idea that, if passed, would change her life and the lives of her fellow Catholics forever.
“Ahh, Miss Stone. I can only guess why you’re here so early,” Lauren’s boss, Philip Lawrence, articulated from his office.
“Any breaking news?” Lauren stood in his doorway both eager and scared to know if something had come in.
“They won’t be making any decisions for awhile. Trust me, you’ll be the first to know when it comes in,” Mr. Lawrence replied. “I want my best journalist on the story of the fate of God’s world and how man has turned his back.” Lauren smiled gratefully in response and traipsed around the cubicles of the fourth story floor of the Times building. There was no smell of warm, freshly printed stories or newly replaced ink cartridges. Only the ominous smell of something that Lauren never dreamed would happen. Her stomach twisted into knots as she imagined what would become of the world if the President outlawed Catholicism in the United States as it was predicted he would. Checks and balances had been thrown out the window years ago, basically what the President said went. The government had written in so many amendments and come so far away from the original thoughts of the forefathers and the Constitution they wrote, no one in the country could argue that their rights were being violated. As much as the government wanted to convince people otherwise, “we the people” were no longer in control. As seven thirty rolled around, Lauren’s co-workers slowly filed in. Some floated through the door, uncaring of the day ahead; others slumped through knowing their fate was uncertain.
“So, no news is good news, right?” Lauren’s closest friend, Jennifer Malone, sighed as she took her seat at the cubicle in front of Lauren’s.
“Or they’ve decided to shut down all types of communications too,” Jeff Gold muttered from his cubicle to the left of Lauren. Before anything else could be said of the corrupt country they lived in Mr. Lawrence buzzed Lauren into his office.
“I just received word that the President will be addressing the union at nine. Are we ready?” he gripped the mouse of his computer so tightly; Lauren swore his knuckles might pop out of his skin. Lauren exited Mr. Lawrence’s office and immediately flipped on the many TVs hanging on the walls of the fourth floor. Lauren, Jeff, and Jennifer crowded around the TV closest to their cubicles and counted down the minutes. Nine O’clock, right on the dot, the President was announced and stepped up to his podium in the House of Representatives’ Chamber.
All breathing stopped, and the whole world went silent as he began to speak, “All of you know the reason for this address, so I’ll get right to the point. In order to promote a more equal society we passed the American Non-discriminatory Act. In attempting to make sure all organizations abide by it a request was made of the Catholic Church to renounce their opposition of same sex marriage. In the failure of the Bishops of the United States to comply, it was made clear that the Catholic Church is an unpatriotic organization. Therefore, the practice of Catholicism is now outlawed and the government will be seizing all Church property immediately. Anyone found practicing Catholicism will be arrested under the charge of treason. This is merely what is best for our country to live in peace.” Jaws in the audience dropped to the floor. Lauren recognized many Catholic politicians fidget uncomfortably in their seats. It was as bad as they had all expected. Now, what would all Catholics do? Lauren knew there were a number of those who would abandon the faith at all costs. Frankly, she couldn’t blame them. Yet, at the same time, why would you abandon the one thing you knew to stay true and strong your whole life? Maybe that was the problem. Many Catholics had been raised to believe this one thing and when it was challenged they weren’t sure why they believed it, other than it was all they’d ever known. It wasn’t like that for Lauren, however, she’d converted after stumbling upon a story about St. Stephen the first martyr. He’d been the very first to die for Catholicism, even though the religion had just been formed, but he had so much faith and trusted in God so much that he allowed himself to be stoned to death and asked God to forgive those who were stoning him. It was in remembering her reason for converting that Lauren discovered what she had to do. The United States had become just like what was going on back when St. Stephen lived. She had to be strong and keep being who she was, and if that meant practicing her faith and getting arrested and possibly killed because of it, then so be it.
A couple days later, after watching the news and seeing many of the bishops, priests, and members of their congregations around the nation had been arrested and sentenced to death for having secret masses, Lauren’s convictions in keeping with her faith were waning. She hadn’t heard from any of her friends. Her parents hadn’t even called to see if she was okay. She knew that they’d be fine, though. They didn’t practice any type of religion. There was no one around to help her discern what to do. No one to give her the boost she needed to keep up with her faith. She’d prayed to God, and she knew he was listening, but she hadn’t received her sign of what to do. That was until she heard a series of rapid poundings on her apartment door. In a hurry her eyes swept across the apartment to make sure she’d hidden her crucifixes and anything relating to Catholicism, then flew to open the door so she wouldn’t seem suspicious.
“Miss Stone, dear. We’re not going to say anything to anyone, but we’d really like you to get this box of Catholic Catechisms out of the hall so no one blames us for them,” Lauren’s elderly Catholic neighbor Karen North pleaded.
“Wouldn’t you like one?” Lauren inquired, sure that she would say yes. Mr. and Mrs. North had been active members of the parish Lauren went to for quite some time.
“No! Walter and I are going to the Episcopalian church now. We have our families to think about, and we don’t want to be arrested or killed for our faith. Surely, you understand, dear. You might want to switch as well. You have so much life ahead of you,” Karen patted Lauren on the shoulder and retreated back into her apartment, leaving Lauren shell-shocked. Maybe Mrs. North was right? What good was it to die and not be around to know Catholicism when there was a chance it could come back? Yet, what greater testament to the faith would there be but to die for it? From her days of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults before she converted she remembered another story. This one of St. Justin Martyr who fought long and hard against the Romans and their pagan religion. He had even written letters to the emperor Marcus Aurelius to tell him what was wrong with paganism. When asked to denounce his faith and sacrifice to the pagan gods, Lauren recalled, Justin refused and was told that if he didn’t he would suffer. That was exactly what St. Justin wanted, to suffer for his faith. With this brand new inspiration in mind, Lauren grabbed the box of Catechisms and marched down the stairs and exited the building. She wouldn’t just die for her faith, she would be sure to pass it on before she did. Thus, here she was, carrying that box of Catechisms around looking for a good place to sit. That was when she saw the bench overlooking the ocean at the corner of Quinn and Hill. She set her box down at her feet and sat waiting.
Down the street, a woman and her son were hurrying home with a couple bags of groceries. Curiously, the boy stared at Lauren. As he and his mother passed, Lauren noticed the brown string of a scapular between the boys shoulder and neck. She immediately reached out to the young boy.
“Thomas, no,” his mother whispered grabbing him. Thomas, however, wrenched out of his mother’s grasp and stepped closer to the bench.
“Here,” Lauren handed him a Catechism.
“Thomas, don’t touch that!” his mother shrieked.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you not to know God and believe what you believe. If you‘re Catholic, don‘t be afraid to show it,” Lauren whispered before Thomas’s mother grabbed the Catechism, threw it back in the box, and dragged her son away.
Lauren remained on the bench even as her watch beeped to signal it had just turned midnight. That’s when a soft hand tapped on her shoulder. She turned with a start to find Thomas and a few other children.
“None of our parents will let us go to religion classes anymore. They say that we’ll get in trouble. Miss Jane told us that if something like this ever happened we needed to keep trying to learn about Jesus and our faith, so here we are. Can you teach us?” Thomas begged as the other kids stood quietly behind him. Lauren began to read to them from the Catechism and answered their basic questions as best she could. Most importantly she stressed that they keep their faith no matter who threatens them because of it. That’s what God wants most; for people to love him so much that they are willing to suffer for the faith. She knew that it might be a little strong for children to handle, but who else would carry on the true faith when all the rest were gone?
“That‘s what martyrdom is, being killed for one‘s faith. Back when the Church first started, a lot of people died for the faith. It was the truest form of showing your faith,” an older boy whom Lauren realized wasn’t there before cleared his throat from the back of the group.
Lauren nodded and the boy spoke again, “I was named after St. Peter. He was crucified upside down during the reign of Roman Emperor Nero, one of the harshest Catholic persecutors of all time. St. Peter was Jesus’ right-hand man, and of course he wouldn’t give up on his faith,” the boy named Peter just finished when they heard the murmur of a man in a black suit on a cell phone across the street. Lauren knew it was a government official who had surely been tipped off by someone in the surrounding apartment buildings. She also knew in a matter of minutes she would be arrested for filling the minds of young children with beliefs from an illegal religion. Immediately, she made the children promise to go home right now, but continue their reading in the Catechism and teach people in the future when they have the chance. Right as the last child scurried away, police cruisers raced around a corner and Lauren was handcuffed and carried away.
In the next few weeks, Lauren went on trial for high treason. She was told that if she were to renounce the faith and say she wasn’t really teaching the children about Catholicism, she would be pardoned. Just like the martyrs in the beginning of the Church, Lauren refused to deny her beliefs and would not give up the names of the children so that they may be taken and taught to forget Catholicism. Days after being found guilty of treason, Lauren was sentenced to death and lethally injected. Her modern day martyrdom, gave hope to all hiding Catholics left in the United States to continue their practices, even if it meant death.