Spiritual Reading for the Second Monday after Epiphany ~ St Alphonsus Liguori

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Spiritual Reading

MARTYRS OF THE FAITH

VIRTUES PRACTISED BY THE HOLY MARTYRS IN THE COMBATS THAT THEY HAD TO SUSTAIN AGAINST THEIR PERSECUTORS

If the reading of the Lives of the Saints is a great means of preserving piety, as St. Philip Neri tells us, and as is taught by all the masters of the spiritual life, we shall find it yet more useful to read about the Victories the holy Martyrs gained by sacrificing their lives amid torments. Hence before relating their individual triumphs, we shall find it of great spiritual advantage to consider the principal virtues of which they gave proofs in their combats.

There is no doubt that the Martyrs are indebted for their crown to the power of the grace which they received from Jesus Christ; for He it is that gave them the strength to despise all the promises and the threats of tyrants, and to endure all torments even unto an entire sacrifice of their lives. So that all their merits, as St. Augustine writes, were the effects of the grace that God in His mercy imparted to them. But it is also certain, and even of Faith, that on their part the Martyrs co-operated with the grace which enabled them to win their victory. Innovators have blasphemed against this truth, saying that all the crimes of the wicked and all the good works of the just are the result of necessity; but the same St. Augustine gives them the lie when he says that if such were the case no reward or punishment would be just.

The Martyrs, therefore, acquired great merits, because the virtues of which they gave proofs in their combats were great and heroic. We shall briefly describe these virtues in order that we may imitate them in the midst of all the tribulations to which we may be exposed in this life.

We at first remark that the Martyrs were firmly attached to all the dogmas of the Christian Faith. In the early ages of the Church two false religions specially opposed ours: these were the religion of the Gentiles and that of the Jews. The religion of the Gentiles, by admitting several gods, furnished itself the proof of its falsity; for if the world had been under the dominion of several masters, it could not have maintained that regular and constant order which we see has been preserved for so many centuries up to the present time. This is evident even to the eyes of natural reason; for every kingdom divided against itself shall be destroyed (Luke xi. 17). Moreover, the very words of the idolatrous priests clearly demonstrated the falsity of their worship, since the actions that they attributed to their gods represented the latter as filled with passions and vices. This was how the holy Martyrs reproached the tyrants when the latter exhorted them to sacrifice to their idols: “How can we,” they said, “adore your gods, if, instead of offering us models of virtue, they exhibit to us only examples of vice?”

The religion of the Jews, although formerly holy and revealed by God, was at that time not less manifestly obsolete and false. In fact, in the Scriptures themselves which they had received from God and had preserved with so much care and transmitted to us, it was predicted that at a certain time the Son of God was to come upon earth, to be made Man and to die for the salvation of the world; that they themselves would put Him to death on the Cross, as they actually did, and that in punishment of this impiety they would be driven from their own kingdom, and without a king, without a temple, without a country, they would live scattered, and be wanderers throughout the world, abhorred and despised by all nations. These were predictions that were manifestly realized in every particular after the death of the Saviour. What rendered still more certain the truth of our Faith was the formation of a new people of God by the conversion of the Gentiles. This was known to have been announced beforehand in the Scriptures, and this was realized as soon as the Apostles spread throughout the world to promulgate the New Law preached by Jesus Christ. This event was an evident proof of the protection that God gave the Christian Religion; for how could those poor sinners, those publicans or fishermen, such as the Apostles were — men devoid of learning, of wealth, of every human assistance, and even persecuted by magistrates and emperors, have induced, without Divine assistance, so many Christians to renounce all their property, their honours, and generously to sacrifice their lives amid tortures the most excruciating that the power and the cruelty of the tyrants could invent?

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