“Blessed are the peacemakers because they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Would you believe that this beatitude, as much as any other beatitude, represents the Christian martyrs?

On the one hand it is right that those who receive the grace of adoption by God through baptism (Romans 8:15) should be those who advocate the holy and proper paths of peace in the world; reconciliation with God parallels reconciliation with others. On the other hand, the beatitude is not a mere maxim about who is likely to preach peace, negotiate peace, and toil for peace.

This is an unchanging word from Christ who will be the real cause of the peace, by means of a radical likeness to Himself and His sacrifice. Even though St. John says we are God’s children now (1 John 3:2), St. Paul says we still await our full adoption as sons and daughters (Romans 8:23). Until we become saints, there is something incomplete about our status as children. If the fullness of our adoption means to be in heaven with the whole family of God, and the martyrs truly have received the fullness of that status, then most of all they are to be called the children of God!

But it still might seem off. How are the martyrs the same as the peacemakers? We associate martyrdom with times of violence and persecution. Yes, that is precisely the point. That’s when the Holy Spirit is at work for peace, using both the people on earth and the saints in heaven. The violence on earth may cease through slow increments, or through quick miracles. But the attainment of peace means the Holy Spirit has made the likeness of Christ really come about in those accomplishments. And often, just before the peace of the resurrection there is the martyrdom of Calvary.

The innocent people caught in conflict, those who deserve no such turmoil or war, can look in hope to the very martyrs who present their pleas at Christ’s altar in heaven  (see Revelation 6: 9-10). Like St. Steven, those children of God in heaven had cried out to the Son of God at the time their blood was shed. So they became like the Son entirely (see Hebrews 12:24). Their prayers for peace and reconciliation did not stop the moment they died but became even more powerful and effective in paradise. And they deserve the titles Sons and Daughters of God as much as any other person ever could.

Remember all this when you see your church altar. Our very altars for celebrating the Eucharist contain the relics of saints, and often, of martyrs. They are as much as anyone the children of God. Their powerful prayers for peace are at work every day. May we grow in holiness as we allow their prayers to take effect in us.

—Father Timothy Naples is pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in South Burlington.

—Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.