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Martyr (entered heaven around 304)
Your resistance to pain is edifying. I remember the strain we used to undergo in conditioning exercises for football, but judging from the descriptions provided in your last note, your basketball coach seems to have reached new heights of discomfort. I hope it pays off in a successful season. Even if it doesn’t, however, you can use the physical demands of your workouts to help foster a successful eternity – both for you and for others. That’s right. As long as the suffering you experience comes as a part of your fulfilling God’s will (and being on the basketball team fits quite nicely under the umbrella of the duties of your state in life – you have a duty to develop your talents to the full), when you unite it to the sufferings endured by Christ for the sake of the Kingdom, they can take on a supernatural dimension, and become a source of grace and spiritual growth in your own life and in the life of those you pray for. This doctrine, linked to what is traditionally known as “the communion of saints,” gave the martyrs their courage, and I don’t see why it can’t help you find even more meaning than you thought in your athletic endeavors. Take today’s saint, for example.
Arcadius fled the Romans who had initiated a horrible persecution of Christians in his native North Africa. The city officials were having every alleged Christian dragged from their houses into the city square, where they were told to offer sacrifices to the state gods or die. When they came to Arcadius’s house, they didn’t find him, but they found a relative of his, whom they took as a hostage until Arcadius would show himself. The saint heard that his cousin was suffering for his sake, so he boldly came out of hiding and presented himself to the judge. His fearless denunciations of the pagan “gods” infuriated the magistrate, who ordered him to be slowly executed by severing off one of his members at a time. He was taken to the martyrs’ yard, where many other Christians had already run the final lap, and the executioners obeyed their orders. First, they cut off his fingers, one by one. Then his hands and arms. Then they moved down to his toes, and his feet, his lower legs, then his thighs, until he was nothing but a stump of a man. With every chop, Arcadius proclaimed, “Lord, teach me your wisdom!” At the end, just before he died, he exclaimed, addressing himself to his severed limbs, “Happy members, you at last truly belong to God, being all made a sacrifice to Him!” Then, addressing himself to the crowds who stood to marvel at his fortitude, he uttered his last words, “You who have been present at this bloody tragedy, learn that all torments seem as nothing to one who has an everlasting crown before his eyes. Your gods are not gods; renounce their worship. He alone for whom I suffer and die is the true God. To die for Him is to live.” And that, my sporting niece, is the attitude that can turn all of our sufferings into glorious, joyful triumphs.
Sincerely, your Uncle Eddy