Deep theological question #4

So let’s say I’m at church and the guy in the row behind me is hacking, wheezing, and coughing up a lung. If I shake his hand and catch pneumonia and die, does that make me a martyr?

Ordinarily what I’d do in this situation is find a reason to busy myself with my children during the entire Sign of Peace and thus avoid shaking hands with anyone. But it’s occuring to me (as it once occurred to Saint Teresa of Avila) that if I could get martyred, it would be an easy way of getting into Heaven. No need for all that virtue and grace stuff. Fairly little suffering and mortification.

No one local slaughters Christians, but maybe I could just die for the sake of Peace.

What say you?


  1. gshstudy

    Sounds like a pretty thin loophole to me. However, I am struck by the next logical question. Is the sick man condemned for causing you to be a martyr? Because if so and you knowingly shake his hand to become a martyr, didn’t you effectively cause him to sin? In that case the only appropriate answer would be to just wave to him and smile. He would then have to forcibly grab your hand with his (perhaps coughing in his hand first for good measure) for the martyr clause to kick in.

  2. mercurial scribe

    LOL. I say you’re thinking about this way too much. Buy some Purell and save the martyrdom for a more worthy cause. 😉

  3. CricketB

    Remember, martyr hood affects more than just you. Your entire family gets to participate, to a lesser degree. Then again, you could pass on the germs to all of them, make it a family affair.

    Regardless of whether you get to be a martyr, he’s being rude to spread his germs.

    I’ve always been bothered by the bit about “must come to mass unless on death-bed”. I suspect there’s a bit of fine print in there about “don’t spread disease” and “if it won’t make you more sick than staying home and recuperating,” but it’s not advertised.

    There should be an approved and encouraged alternative, such as touching knuckles or nodding. I used to start coughing myself and trade nods.

    The Lutheran church I used to assist at went through all sorts of convolutions regarding communion. We had two cups and three methods. (Small glasses for pouring cup, and intinction (dipping the bread) and drinking from the shared cup. Recipients would often hide their glass or bread in their hands, so you had to watch closely. There was one who refused both cups; I suspect he was a reformed alcoholic, but it was confusing at the time.

  4. philangelus

    Cricket, you don’t have to go to church if you’re short of being on your deathbed. 🙂 Regular illness is adequate “dispensation” from having to go, and taking care of an ill family member takes precedence over going. In fact, anything that would cause undue risk is a reason to stay home (so, for example, unplowed roads.)

    I’ve refused to shake hands when I feel I’m contagious, but I always feel MEEEEEEAN for doing so. I make the “peace” sign with my hands and step backward.

    Scott, you bring up a good point about one’s martyrdom having to be involuntary. The guy who infected everyone wouldn’t actually be sinning because you need to *want* to sin in order to sin. (In some faiths that’s not the case, but fortunately, Christianity is an orthodoxy rather than an orthopraxy, so if the guy gives me pneumonia and I die, he’s not a murderer unless he intended to do so. Which means I didn’t lead the guy into sin by shaking his hand. (O, those sins of the flesh…except that’s not what they usually mean!)

    Maybe it really is the Purell route for now, but I really wanted to find a quicker way into Heaven than behaving myself and living a faith-filled life. 😉