St Miltiades

Pope (entered heaven January 11, 314)

Dear Milton,

From the dearth of your correspondence I am tempted to conclude that you are drifting away from spiritual vigor.  I judge from your track record.  Every finals period brings out your pride and your vanity to such a degree that everything but top-performance gets shoved way into the background.  Is it not true?  Do you not once again feel the extreme pressure to perform bearing down upon you?  And has that not crowded out your personal prayer time, your visits to the chapel, your Bible reading, your Rosary?… I understand your situation.  But do you?  If you let the pressure of studies crowd out those activities that alone keep you “united to the vine”, as our Lord put it, you are setting a dangerous precedent for future pressures, those of family and job, for instance.  I think you need a good reminder from today’s saint.

Miltiades survived the last and most furious waves of persecution that rocked the Church before the Emperor Constantine proclaimed freedom of worship in 313.  Therefore, the holy Pope (who had ascended the papacy only a year prior to Constantine’s decree) was blessed with seeing one of the great turns of history’s mighty tide.  Even so, heaven didn’t descend upon earth just because Christians could now worship freely; Satan has more than one pitchfork in his arsenal.  Almost as soon as the persecutions subsided, interior division erupted, in the form of the Dontatist heresy, which threatened to sunder the Church in two.  Pope Miltiades was entrusted with the task of reconciling passionate differences among powerful church leaders, a task he performed with admirable tact and charity during a meeting held at the Lateran palace in Rome.  He dodged a rupture, keeping the Church on course until his death soon after.

The point that interests me, however, the one that ought to interest you (in my opinion, I should qualify), is something far removed from policies and diplomacies.  It’s hardly even a blip on history’s vast radar screen.  It’s simply this: Miltiades died of natural causes, we know that for certain, and yet in many ancient sources he is referred to as a martyr.  How can it be?  His contemporaries truly considered him a martyr, because he had suffered so severely in the pre-Constantinian persecutions, and had kept the faith inviolate.  For them, his fidelity under pressure (granted, the pressure was extreme) sufficed to earn him the most revered title a Christian could earn in those days: Martyr.

There is a lesson in that.  Sometimes the most honorable “martyrdoms” aren’t the ones that take your life, or the ones that everybody sees, or the ones that anybody sees.  The greatness of a Christian, my fledgling nephew, is in his fidelity to Christ under pressure, whatever form that pressure happens to take.

Your loving uncle, Eddy


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