St Hipparchus and his Companions, the Seven Martyrs of Samosata

(in modern day Iraq) (entered heaven in 297 or 308)

Dear Steve,

I empathize with the distress you are feeling in the face of an “overwhelming quantity of work” (as you put it) as final exams approach.  I empathize, but I don’t feel sorry for you. Part of it is due to your spats of carelessness and procrastination throughout the semester, and you have only yourself to blame for that.  On the other hand, the suffering caused by your attempts to fulfill God’s will (expressed, in your current state of life as a student, in your duty to study to the best of your ability) is an incomparable opportunity to show and grow your love for God.  Of course, it takes faith to see God’s will behind your sociology paper, or your biology research project. That’s why it is especially important to keep your prayer life on track when you feel “overwhelmed.” But if you can rustle up enough faith, and you offer your hours of intellectual toil in union with Christ’s own offering on the cross (which you can do most directly by actively participating in Mass as often as possible), these times of stress and tension can become a source of grace for you and the whole Church.

Your condition reminds me, in a purely analogous way, of the sufferings of today’s saints.  Hipparchus and Philotheus were upper-class magistrates in Samosata. They had recently become Christians, and when the Roman Emperor passed through after winning some military victories in Persia, they stayed in their house worshiping the one true God while the rest of city spent three days reveling in religious celebrations and offering sacrifice to the Roman gods.  Five friends dropped by during the festivities and found the two older men kneeling before a cross. Wondering what it was all about, they queried the magistrates and Hipparchus took advantage of the opportunity to explain the gospel to them. They were moved by the example and the words of the two Christians, and asked to be received into the Church, whereupon Hipparchus sent for the only Catholic priest in the city, one named James, who surreptitiously made his way to the house, received the young men’s profession of faith, baptized them, and administered the Eucharist.  As the festivities drew to a close, the Emperor asked if all the city officials had made the required sacrifices. Of course, Hipparchus and Philotheus hadn’t, so he sent for them, and when they refused to worship the pagan gods, they were duly imprisoned. Their five new converts soon joined them. They were all kept in separate cells for about two months, receiving only enough water and bread to keep them alive. Nevertheless, when they were dragged out and ordered once again to sacrifice to Rome, they asserted their allegiance to Christ with as much zeal and eloquence as they did at first.  The Emperor was furious. He ordered them to be crucified, which they were, but not before the rest of the city officials secretly implored their intercession with the one true God for the good of the city.

On the surface, this remarkable history has little to do with the stress of preparing for final exams.  But the faith, perseverance, and self-denial that these martyrs showed in the midst of their struggle are the same virtues that you need if you want to take full advantage of the next couple of weeks.  Who knows, maybe God is giving you a chance to practice these virtues on a small scale so that you will be ready to practice them on a larger scale later on – after all, the age of martyrs didn’t stop when the world ran out of Roman Emperors.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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