“Let us leave behind the examples from times of old, and come to those who struggled closest to us; let us consider the noble models of our own generation.”
These compelling words come to us from the Office of Readings for today’s feast of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, June 30 (a letter to the Corinthians by Clement I, pope [Cap. 5, 1-7, 4]). The universal Church remembers and honors those who died for Christ in August of 64 AD the Roman Emperor Nero launched a heavy persecution against the nascent Christian community in Rome.
The liturgy’s brief explanatory text cites two sources concerning this historical event, sources both from within and from outside the Church: “the pagan writer Tacitus testifies to these events in his Annales (15, 44), as does Clement, bishop of Rome, in his letter to the Corinthians (chapters 5-6).”
A Mental Exercise on the Passage of Time
Since most scholars date St. Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians to about 80 AD, we can understand a time-line of the death and resurrection of Christ (33 AD), the martyrdom of these anonymous believers (64 AD), and the composition of these lines (80 AD) in terms of our own times.
Now applying these relative distances of time to our own year, imagine reading a letter written by a bishop today (2015), about the death of a large group of local Christians (1999), who were followers of Jesus Christ (died and rose in 1968; born in 1935).
These First Martyrs of the Church of Rome lived life to the full since they knew what was worth dying for: the One who alone is the Way and the Truth and the Life (Jn. 14:6). The antiphon for morning prayer of their feast speaks of their love and their unity: “The great numbers of martyrs stood firm in their love for one another because they shared the same spirit and the same faith.” After all, who will separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:35ff).
“We are writing this, beloved, not only for your admonition but also as a reminder to ourselves; for we are placed in the same arena, and the same contest lies before us.” St. Clement of Rome
In our times there are Christians who are suffering death on account of their faith in Christ. Our sisters who participated in the summer mission in Toronto, Canada, were extremely edified and deeply touched by the Iraqi Chaldean Catholic community living there.
One young woman and her husband, a permanent deacon, escaped to Canada just six months ago from Iraq with their young child. She showed the sisters photographs of their parish church as it was before, and as it is now — totally destroyed and vandalized by radicals. Their parish priest was taken, kept hostage and eventually shot. These brothers and sisters of ours know the cost of following Christ, and can be great examples for us and ought to claim a place in our daily prayers.
“Hence we ought to put aside vain and useless concerns and go straight to the glorious and venerable norm which is our tradition, and we should consider what is good, pleasing and acceptable in the sight of him who made us.
Let us fix our gaze on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.” St. Clement of Rome
Let us live our simple daily lives joyfully with Christ at the center, and be ever ready to receive from God the Father whatever He may ask of us as disciples of Jesus Christ, His Son, Our Lord. First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, pray for us!