Genesis 19:15-29; Psalm 26 O Lord, you mercy is before my eyes; Matthew 8:23-27
Today we celebrate the memorial of the First Holy Martyrs of The Holy Roman Church. What a name for a feast.
Yesterday we celebrated the feast of Peter and Paul who both were martyred in Rome. Today we remember those early christians who accompanied Peter and Paul not so much in their death but more importantly in their witness to something greater than themselves, the witness of Faith.
If you go to Rome, in Vatican City, to the east side of St. Peter's Basilica is the Plaza of the Roman Protomartyrs. It considered to be the place where the early christians were tortured for their faith.
As you walk through the plaza it leads to the Scavi office, which is the gate way to the necropolis underneath St. Peter's Basilica, where the tomb of St. Peter resides and his bones can be seen.
The plaza of the Roman Protomartyrs is not anything spectacular. It is simply a space set aside to remember those who were valiant in faith. It is a space that gives us something to think about in hope to follow the examples set before us, in hope to allow the blood shed to be a seed ground of faith and courage for us all.
Here is what Tacitus, the roman historian, has to say about the holy martyrs:
"Consequently to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace...Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred for humanity. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired."
This is what Pope Clement, 3rd bishop of Rome, has to say about these martyrs:
"To these men, Peter and Paul, who lives holy lives, there was joined a great multitude of the elect who by reason of rivalry were victims of many outrages and tortures and who became outstanding examples for us...we are writing this as a reminder to ourselves; for we are placed in the same arena, and the same contest lies before us."
Indeed, the Holy Martyrs continue to serve as a nightly illumination for all of us. They inspire us to be faithful, to bear witness no matter what, trusting that God will see us through.
The Plaza of the Protomartyrs continues to give us something to think about, something to hope for, memories of courage for the ages so that we might enter the contest and life our faith fully through it all.