St Longinus

Martyr (entered heaven sometime in the first century)

Dear Lonnie,

Unless I am mistaken, you leave tomorrow for your pilgrimage to Rome.  I do so hope you will keep me in your prayers as you visit those sacred sites.  Nothing would give me more pleasure than to be there with you, telling you all about the innumerable treasures of our faith to be found in the Eternal City.  But God has seen fit to send me on this other mission, and so I am sure he will take good care of you. While you visit the Basilica of St Peter, don’t forget to admire the remarkable (and often overlooked) sculpture of today’s saint; it’s in a niche under the northeast pillar of the dome.  It’s about fourteen feet high, so you really can’t miss it if you try to find it. The remarkable thing about it is the contrast. The figure is muscular and athletic, confident and strong, as any good Roman soldier should be. But the facial expression is full of confusion and amazement, doubt and wonder.  Here he was, on duty in Jerusalem on the first Good Friday. He and his buddies carry out the sentence of crucifixion and are waiting on the hill (Calvary) while the two thieves and our Lord die. Longinus must have had a sensitive soul, even though he was a rough and experienced soldier, because he noticed something different about Christ.  And when our Lord gave up his spirit and died, and the sun went dark, and the earth quaked, and all kinds of strange augers were unleashed (check out Matthew 27:51-54 for inspired details), Longinus let the grace of God enter his heart, and he believed in Jesus.

Later, when they were ordered to take down the bodies, this same soldier took his spear and pierced the side of Jesus, to ensure that he was dead.  According to some sources, when the water and the blood flowed out of Jesus’ heart, some of the blood ran down the length of the spear and got on Longinus’s hands.  When he was cleaning it off, he got some of it on his eyes, which had long been going dim from cataracts. As soon as the precious blood touched them, his cataracts were healed, and he could see as clearly as ever.

The reason his statue occupies such a prominent place in St Peter’s Basilica is much debated.  Some attribute it to the fact that the tip of his spear was preserved and brought as a relic to Rome, and it was installed underneath this sculpture.  But many other relics were also brought to Rome. Why would they put this one under the dome of the most important church in the world? I think the reason is deeper.  The blood of Christ always symbolizes his love, his self-giving for our sake. This love of God for each of us is the source of our salvation, the source of God’s revelation, the source of our hope.  It is our light, and with that light, we come to see clearly the meaning of all things – including our own life. Just as Longinus’s fading vision was restored when he touch the Savior’s blood, so our weak and selfish hearts are given new life every time we receive that same blood in the Eucharist…

Anyway, don’t miss the wonderful sculpture, and don’t waste even the briefest moment of your pilgrimage – it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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