St Irenaeus of Sirmium

Bishop and Martyr (entered heaven on March 25, 304)

Dear Sherman,

You are causing yourself unnecessary grief.  You are a senior in college, my bright young nephew, and the honor you owe your parents no longer includes the duty of obedience.  Neither do they any longer have the right to command you.  Of course they have the duty to continue assisting you and supporting you in whatever way they can and wish, and you still have the duty to respect them, care for them if you can, and to seek their advice and wisdom.  But if your conscientious process of vocational discernment has put it into your heart that God is calling you to the priesthood, and if the seminary’s vocational director has also expressed his conviction that this calling is from God, your first duty now is to follow the Lord.  If your parents don’t like it, if they think it is unwise, if they actively resist it – you must endure the suffering caused by their disapproval, but you know what path you should follow.

Today’s saint experienced this same dilemma in an even more violent way.  He lived during the last wave of Christian persecutions under the pagan Roman emperors.  He happened to be the bishop of Sirmium, in modern day Hungary, when Diocletian’s command that all citizens be required to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods reached the provincial governor, Probus.

Probus had Irenaeus brought in and ordered him to sacrifice to the gods.  Irenaeus refused, claiming that the Roman gods were false and that he worshipped only the one true God, Jesus Christ.  They bantered back and forth.  Irenaeus wouldn’t budge.  Probus sent him to the rack.  They stretched him out.  They tortured him.  Probus appeared at his side and questioned him again.  Will you sacrifice?  “I sacrifice to my God, by confessing his name, and so I have always sacrificed,” the saint answered.

Probus had the saint’s family brought in: his mother, his wife (in the first centuries many priests and bishops were married before their conversion or ordination), and his two children.  They were moved to tears and loud cries by seeing him stretched on the rack.  His children embraced his feet and begged him not to abandon them.  His wife threw herself on his neck and kissed and caressed him tenderly, imploring him to relent, for her sake and the children’s.  His mother stood by, unable to speak, weeping, sobbing, and groaning at the sight of her tortured son.

Probus questioned him again, “Will you be insensible to such marks of tenderness and affection?  Can you see so many tears shed for you without being moved? It is not beneath a great courage to be touched with compassion. Sacrifice, and do not destroy yourself in the flower of your age.” Irenaeus responded, “It is that I may not destroy myself that I refuse to sacrifice.”

Later, after a long imprisonment punctuated by various tortures and torment, the governor invited him to sacrifice once again, appealing to his responsibility to his family.  The saint appealed to a higher responsibility, quoting Christ himself: “He that loves father or mother, wife or children, brothers or relations more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).  Probus gave up, furious at his failure to make the leader of the Christians apostatize.  Ireneaus was beheaded and thrown into the river.

The best thing you can do for your parents is to fulfill the mission God has given you, cost what it may.  If you follow Him, do you really think He will abandon them?

Sincerely, your uncle,


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One Comment
  1. Paul taught that those who do not provide for their own household are worse than an unbeliever. That Irenaeus wanted to have his cake and eat it too: family and martyrdom. There was no reason for him t marry, for even Paul wasn’t and Peter left his wife.
    You also do not know if he’s in Heaven, even Paul did not know if he will make it.

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