THE MARTYRS TEACH US TO DESPISE THE WORLD AND TO LOVE THE FAITH.
From an earnest consideration of the illustrious examples of virtue which the Saints have given us during their Martyrdom, oh, how much is to be learned!
When we behold in devout meditation, the utter contempt in which the Martyrs held the world and all the allurements of its pompous vanities, we are taught to despise the fleeting vanities and empty pleasures which it offers its deluded votaries. Many of them, previous to having been put to torture, had been offered by the tyrants immense rewards, posts of honour and noble marriages, to induce them to abandon the Faith. Yet they not only indignantly refused them, but willingly renounced the riches and honours which they already held, and offered themselves to tortures the most excruciating and deaths the most ignominious, in order not to lose those heavenly graces which a benign Providence fails not to impart to the servants of the Lord, as the earnest of the eternal blessings which shall be the recompense of their fidelity. To St. Clement of Ancyra the tyrant offered a great quantity of gold and precious stones if he would deny the Name of the Lord Jesus; but the Saint, raising his eyes to Heaven, exclaimed: “And is it thus, O my God, that men treat Thee! — to compare Thee to dust and dross!” The pontifical dignity was offered to St. Theodore of Amasea, as a reward if he gave up the Faith. The holy Martyr, ridiculing the proposal, replied: “Pontifical dignity! I am about to enjoy God forever in Heaven; and is it likely, think you, that I should prefer remaining on earth, to follow the trade of cook and butcher like your priests who offer sacrifice to false gods?”
From the example of the Martyrs we learn also to place our hope in God, and to become daily more enamoured of the excellence of our Faith: since in their constancy we cannot help admiring the wonderful power of God which enabled them to encounter torments and death with heroic fortitude and ecstatic joy. For without the interposition of the most powerful assistance from Heaven, how could persons of a delicate constitution, or in the tottering decrepitude of age, how could tender virgins and children be equal to tortures, the bare recital of which fills us with horror? Caldrons of boiling oil and liquid pitch; red-hot coats of mail; hooks to pull out the eyes and teeth; irons combs to tear off the flesh; fires quick to consume, or tediously to torture; scourging until bones and bowels appeared: beheading, quartering, lacerating, impaling — these were only some of the ingredients of the Martyr’s cup.
St. Barlaam, a poor labourer of a village in Antioch, having evinced extraordinary fortitude during his sufferings, and been scourged until the executioners had exhausted their strength, was forced by the tyrant to hold his hand over the flame that burned before the shrine of an idol. At the same time burning coals were placed with some incense upon his hand, in the hope that he might be obliged by the pain to let the burning incense fall upon the altar, and thus afford them the opportunity of asserting that he had sacrificed to the idols; but the constancy of the Saint was greater than their malice — he allowed his flesh to be burned to the bone, and expired in the effort.
St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom have eulogized this Martyr.
St. Eulalia affords another instance of the wonderful aid the Almighty gives to those who are devoted to His service. She was a youthful virgin, of only twelve years. The tyrant ordered her to be cruelly scourged, and then caused boiling oil to be poured into the wounds, and burning torches to be applied to her breasts and sides. During these tortures she ceased not to praise the Lord. Her joints were entirely dislocated, the flesh torn from her bones with iron hooks, and she was finally burned alive, having baffled the ingenuity of her inhuman executioners.
The Martyrdom, also, of St. Vitus and St. Agapitus shows us the wonderful assistance of grace, which never fails the servants of the Lord. The former when only fourteen years of age, was scourged, racked, and torn with irons. His father who was a Gentile, wept with anguish to see his son expire in such torments. “No, father,” exclaimed the boy, “I do not die: I go to live with Christ forever!” St. Agapitus, also a youth, evinced the same fortitude. The tyrant threatened that he would place upon his head a red-hot helmet: “And what better fortune could await me,” said the Saint, “than to exchange your instrument of torture for a heavenly crown?” Then the emperor ordered that red-hot coals should be placed on his head, that he be scourged, and suspended by the feet over a thick smoke. He afterwards had boiling water poured over his breast, and finally had him beheaded.
The triumph of divine grace in the aged was manifested in St. Simeon, who at the age of one hundred and twenty endured the most excruciating tortures and expired on a cross, as is related by Eusebius of Caesarea. St. Philip, Bishop of Heraclea, in his decrepit old age, was dragged by the feet through the city, scourged till his bowels appeared, and afterwards burned alive. The venerable Martyr, till his last breath, ceased not to return thanks to the Lord Who had made him worthy to die for His glory.