Monday, June 30, 2014

The First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church and our Martyrs Today

The Coliseum
Rome, Italy
From My Personal Photo Collection

On the day after the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, we honor the first martyrs of the Roman Church. They were victims of the Emperor Nero, who blamed Christians for a fire that destroyed most of the city of Rome in the year 64. These Christians were arrested, interrogated, and brutally murdered for Nero's personal entertainment. They were thrown to the wild beasts in the arena or soaked in tar and used as living torches. Their deaths are documented in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus and in Pope St Clement’s letter to the Corinthians.


As I write about these early Christian martyrs, I can't help but reflect on the time I spent with my Community in prayer and thanksgiving for their sacrifice and their great faith while visiting the Coliseum in Rome, Italy in February, 2006. I felt such a strong sense of their presence as I envisioned these innocent, defenseless victims being tossed into this huge arena to be devoured by the lions while thousands of pagan spectators entertained themselves, drinking and eating to excess, sitting back, laughing, and cheering.

In some ways this scenario is similar what is happening in our own society today. We sit back on our recliners guiltlessly indulging ourselves in every imaginable way-- participating in every form of sensual delight, consuming excessive quantities of food to appease every one of our 10,000 taste buds, purchasing whatever trinket strikes our fancy, poisoning our minds and welcoming into our homes the violence, bloodshed, and pornography of the internet, movies, and TV.

How often do we get up off our derrières to do something about the evil in our world? It is just so much easier to sit back and continue in our self - indulgent habits, while the innocent martyrs of our day -- the unborn-- are being slaughtered, their remains being flushed down a toilet, thrown in the garbage, or burned in an incinerator. We sit back while our government "health plan" pays for the innocent pre-born babies to be slaughtered in their mother's wombs and for Christians to violate their consciences.

Today, we, as Catholics, are still entertaining the pagans in the arena and the world is watching us to see what we will do next. Will we act as true descendants of these first holy martyrs or will we continue to let the world think that we are indifferent to the slaughter of the innocent?

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