One of Chesterton's ideas which appeals to me most is his finding astonishment in the idea that Hope is the virtue between the pitfalls of despair on one hand, and presumption on the other.
I think other people have noted that there is some deep meaning in the feasts of the martyrs coming so soon after the joy of Christmas. I think the churches have failed in promoting this as part of the Christmas season. Everyone has bemoaned the materialistic aspects of the season, these feasts serve to bring a holy balance to the festivities, much like Chesterton's view of hope.
I have thought often of the martyrs, even though they are seldom mentioned from the pulpits. I think that many of our contemporary problems are bound up in our awkwardness in dealing with them, and celebrating their sainthood. In the US, we live in a society where we barely have to face inconvenience, the idea of discomfort is shocking enough, much less martyrdom. We are educated in a system that breeds sophism and muddling issues, and having such devotion to a cause or an idea is seen as a type of unhealthy fanaticism.
There are two things that I have mulled over that I have not seen extensively discussed:
1-Many of the Roman martyrs basically died for refusal to worship the state. In many of the stories, the crime of the martyr-to-be is merely to refuse to burn incense to Caesar. This is actually quite spooky given the Church/state relations of our own day.
2-The government and culture which persecuted the Christians ended up being the vehicle for the evangelization of Europe. Latin became the language of the Church, and you know the rest of the story.
This second item strikes me as an apologetic for the existence of the Holy Spirit. This doesnt happen normally, or naturally. Many people reading this blog are probably those who take notice of the decline of Christian culture, and its capitualation to secularism on one side, and Islamic incursion on the other. Within the course of one lifetime, the early Christians went from being persecuted by Rome, to being the bearers of Roman culture which traveled with the Faith.
What we so obviously see today isnt this miraculous evangelization and baptism of the good in a culture, but rather a capitulation to the forces of the day, an emasculation of truth, and deeply felt embarrassment about an imagined past.
We hear so much of inclusiveness and accepting other cultures that we are numbed to the best example of how Christianity dialogued with Roman culture. The early Christians didnt bemoan their Greek and Hebrew roots and how they didnt fit with progressive Roman ideas. They didnt see worshipping in the catacombs as abandoning the public square. From the blood and ashes of the martyrs, the Church arose like a Phoenix and took the language and the best of the philosophy of her persecutors, and left the Caesars to the shadows of history.