St Marcellinus and St Peter

Martyrs (entered heaven in 304)

Dear Mark,

I’m glad you’re feeling so carefree and jubilant as your summer vacation begins.  Of course, I hope you don’t take that feeling too seriously.  It is, after all, just a feeling, and so it will pass – as soon as the fleeting euphoria of finishing final exams passes.  The trick is to know how to take advantage of nice feelings and make them feed your faith.  I think today’s saints can give you some pointers.

We don’t know a whole lot about Marcellinus and Peter, victims of the Emperor Diocletian’s 20-year anti-Christian rampage.  But they made a lasting impression on their contemporary Christians, so lasting, in fact, that their names are still among the martyrs honored in the First Eucharist Prayer.  Personally, I think their popularity had a lot to do with the manner in which their martyrdom was discovered.

Marcellinus was a priest working in Rome, and Peter was an exorcist (back then you didn’t have to be a priest to be an exorcist).  They were arrested (together, so it seems), tried, found guilty of sedition – Christianity was considered a traitorous faith, since the Christians refused to worship the pagan gods who supposedly protected the Empire – and sentenced to death by beheading.  But the judge’s decision was kept secret; it seems the authorities wanted to avoid giving the Christians more heroic martyrs than they already had – at least, this authority wanted to.

So they were escorted outside of the city (Roman citizens could not be put to death inside the city walls) by their executioner, without knowing that they were walking to their execution.  They arrived at a dense pocket of underbrush in a forest, and their guide announced their fate.  He thought they would blanch and beg for clemency, but instead they rejoiced and began clearing the brush and preparing their burial places.  Then the executioner performed his gruesome duty.  Their headless bodies were hastily buried.

Soon thereafter a Christian matron by the name of Lucilla learned about these events in a dream (or a prophetic vision – the records are unclear on the point) and came with some other Christians to find the gravesite.  Find it she did, and the Christian community thought it best to remove the heroes’ remains to a more proper burial place.  A few years later, when Christianity was made legal, the Emperor Constantine had a church built over their tomb, where his mother, St Helen, was eventually buried.The details of the story reached posterity because the executioner himself was deeply troubled by what he had witnessed.  He ended up embracing the Christian faith, convinced that something that could give Marcellinus and Peter so much peace of mind and steady joy in the face of death must be authentic.

That kind of peace and joy is the truly Christian brand: feelings based on the truths of the faith and the promises of God, imperturbable by the twists and turns of circumstances.  This feeling of liberation that you sense in the wake of your final exams is but a light whiff of the deep sense of freedom and satisfaction that comes when you really learn to live according to lasting truth of Christ.  I hope you take some time this summer to study that lesson – you won’t regret it if you do.

Your loving uncle,


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