I know that the Church teaches that people that die in a state of mortal sin cannot go to Heaven. However, can martyrs killed in a state of mortal sin still go to Heaven?
Excellent question, and one that should remind people to GO TO CONFESSION. We don’t know when our turn is going to come. It could be today. If you know yourself to be out of sync with God and doubt or know that you are not in the state of grace… there is a solution for you. You know what it is.
Ad rem: Holy Church holds that when a person dies with “voluntary suffering or sustaining of death for the faith or another virtue related to God” and also that the person was killed “out of hate for the faith or for a virtue prescribed by the faith”, then – provided both of these elements can be ascertained through clear proofs and not just conjectures or guesses – he died the death of a “martyr”.
Moreover, the person must voluntarily accept the death that is inflicted for the sake of the faith. This acceptance can be long-standing and habitual or it can be of shorter duration, but it has to last until their last moment of earthly life. Even in the act of dying, they have to accept death for the sake of Christ and faith in Him.
Just because you were willing to die a martyrs death and you were killed longing to be a martyr, those elements don’t make you truly a Christian martyr. Just because someone kills you from hatred of the faith, you are not necessarily a martyr. The different elements must converge. Voluntary death for love of Christ and death from hatred of Christ.
In that supreme moment of dying, we hold that all the virtues are present in the person in a heroic way. It is as if there is a fiery cleansing of burning charity coursing through the martyr’s soul. This is a rather poetic way to put it, of course. In a sense, this true martyrdom can substitute for a sacramental confession of sins.
It would not, however, in the case of non-martyrs.
We all are called to foster virtue in a heroic measure (be mindful of the sense of “heroic” here, as understood by the Church in these causes of canonization, etc.). We are summoned by Christ and the Church to persevere in the life of virtue to the end. True martyrdom, however, is a special case of intense Christian living and Christian dying.
It is paradoxical that blood is what makes the Church grow (cf. Tertullian). It was Christ’s overwhelming “defeat” on the Cross that was the greatest victory of human history. Martyrs hold a special place in the album of the saints precisely because their blood was and is now the seed of the Church’s fruitful growth.
This does not mean that we cannot try to avoid death. We don’t have to invite death. We can try to flee or hide or defend ourselves and loved ones and the innocent with us. However, when the moment comes when we are brought to death as lovers of Christ, His Church and the virtues that Christian life requires, then as martyrs we (please God!) abandon ourselves to His will in charity, hope and faith, with accepting perseverance to our last breath.