In taking up the cross of Christ, if we have done so with true faith and fervour, as a result of our baptism and latter acceptance of the Christian call upon our lives, we place ourselves within the category of alien and stranger. Christians have always done this and it is something that Christ calls us to with his call upon our lives (Matt. 10.37-39). It is perhaps something that we ourselves have forgotten living in this age, living secular lives. If we take offence at this, being Christian not secular, just stop and reflect on the derivation of the word secular. It comes from saeculum which means "belonging to a generation" in its most original sense. Our sense of living for and of this time is the secularity that we live and yet as we live this we are also called into Christ and to present the reign of God to those who are also living in this saeculum. If we understand this we also understand that we are different to those around us, or should be, as we are called into Christ, we are called to identify so deeply with Christ that we identify with his death upon a cross (Romans 6). I am fairly certain that the majority of us when asked "who are you?" will reply "I am so and so, from this place and I am an Australian / Sri Lankan / Brit etc". It may occur to you to label yourself as a Christian somewhere down the line but not as a first option. In doing this, I would perhaps suggest that we are definitely very secular as we identify with this current age and not with our Christianity, our apparent call into Christ.
Can we be modern martyrs by being true witnesses to our faith?
For us identification with our faith is not at the forefront of our lives unlike some of the early Christians. For people such as Polycarp, Perpetua and the like the identification was completely with their faith. Perpetua's father trying to dissuade her from the course that led to her martyrdom receives the response from Perpetua along the lines of "You see this vase, you cannot call it anything else for that is its being. You cannot call me anything else for that is my very being, a Christian." How many of us are as faithful to our calling. Just as in the age of persecutions in which Perpetua and others lived we to live in an age where we find the Christian faith journey is of little account and declining, however much we try to bolster it. Yet, if we are to be true to our faith calling we need also to live in the hope that is Christ so that we also may be lights to future generations. Our sacrifice may not be as physically painful as Perpetua (after all she was killed in the arena, as part of a birthday celebration), but it still needs to be a making of sacredness in our lives. Our call is an identification with Christ within the community in which we have been set, not for our own contentment, but as a call into the world around us to feed the poor, to encourage the fainthearted and to be present to those around us.
Even as outcasts Hagar and the child are given the hope of God's presence (Gen 21.18-20), even if we believe that we are outcasts we are present to God and given God's hope for the future. It is only when we begin to realise this and live its reality in a world that derides the institution will be when we begin to evangelise and bring the Good News into the hearts and minds around us. We evangelise not for an institution but for a life in Christ.