Uncle Eddy's E-mails -- August 7
Pope Saint Sixtus II and Companions,
(entered heaven in 258)
Gearing up for senior year?
I hope you get at least a few days of leisure before having to launch into another school year. You
should try to start out fresh, so you can finish your college career with a flourish, not a
whimper. You have probably already decided on the topic for your senior short-film project, but
if you haven´t (well, even in you have) I wanted to recommend a scene from the life of today’s
saint. I continue to be baffled about why filmmakers refuse to exploit the treasure house of human
drama that is the lives of the saints. They go around desperately scavenging up scandalous and
unbelievable plots, when all they have to do is turn the pages of history to find the most riveting
and cathartic stories that can be told.
Picture the scene. The emperor Valerian has just
issued a decree (with senatorial backing) that all Christian bishops, priests, and deacons are to be
executed, for the good of imperial harmony. Word spreads; anxious Christians bring the news to
the Pope and his assistants (the deacons Januarius, Vincent, Magnus, and Stephen, as well as some
others). The whole Roman Church hurriedly goes into persecution mode – no more preaching,
baptizing, and celebrating of the sacred mysteries in private homes; they have to take cover, hiding
and disguising their priests, and worshiping in the underground chapels constructed in the
cemeteries (called "catacombs" – don´t believe those revisionist historians who try to say that
Christians never worshipped in the catacombs; it was a common place of refuge during the many waves
of persecution). Dark, damp, torches casting flickering shadows on the rough, pumice-like tufa
walls, the faithful huddle together for Mass, praying for safety and for strength to remain faithful
to Christ in the face of these attacks. Mass begins.
The Liturgy of the Word takes on new
meaning as they read from the Scriptures about the sufferings of Israel and of Christ. The sacred
books are closed; all eyes turn expectantly to the president of the assembly, their bishop, Sixtus.
He is seated at the head of the gathering, near the makeshift altar. His down-turned face seems to
burn with a determined glow in the torchlight. Slowly, he lifts his gaze to the faithful pressed
together in the cavern. He smiles. They smile back, relieved, drawing vigor and confidence from his
sturdy faith. He begins, "Let us think of immortality rather than death; let us find joy rather than
fear in this new opportunity to glorify our Lord; let us all – each and every one of us – remember
that soldiers of Christ are not killed when they die in battle, but crowned." Suddenly a commotion
is heard above them. The frantic voice of the porter protesting the gruff and raucous shouts of
Roman police: they have been discovered.
The assembly begins to panic; cries can be
heard as they struggle to find some way to escape. Sixtus takes it all in at a glance, his
gentle smile transmutes into calm, peaceful determination. "Be still, my little flock," he raises
his hand to bring order, and then continues, "You have nothing to fear. Set your minds on Christ the
Lord; he will be your strength." The police are coming closer. Sixtus continues, "Only one Empire
will last forever; do not forfeit your citizenship therein." The Police burst into the chapel and
demand the apprehension of the bishop and deacons. The Pope ignores them. He continues, seated like
a rock on his humble chair, exhorting the assembly. Another shout from the invaders; no
acknowledgement from the bishop. Furious, they charge through the gathering and snatch him from his
seat. They drag him and the deacons above ground, followed by the crowd of Christians.
Unceremoniously, brutally, the ministers are beheaded right there…
Pretty dramatic, isn´t it?
Funny thing is – it´s true (except the homily – which is stolen from his contemporary, St Cyprian,
Bishop of Alexandria). I think it would be great for your film-short. I also think you should stay
close to Pope St Sixtus: if your career path does end up taking you among the briars and brambles of
the entertainment world, you will certainly need help to stay faithful to the much subtler
persecutions you will encounter there.
God bless, Uncle Eddy
To read more about other
Saints of the day, CLICK HERE