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St Pothinus and Companions
The Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne (southeastern France) (entered heaven in 177)
Nothing pains me more than hearing about the plague of gossip and backbiting that’s so widespread among your peers. Our tongues were made for building up, not for breaking down! St James put it best: “Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna [hell].” (James 3:6-7) If you want to take the fast lane to holiness and peace of mind, to lasting joy and satisfying relationships, learn to control the words that escape your lips. Neither participate in sterile criticism (let alone detraction [maliciously pointing out someone’s bad points to other people] or slander [telling damaging lies about someone]), nor tolerate it in others, and you will be pleasing to God and a fountain of light for the Church.
How careless we are with words! We should take a lesson from today’s saints. All the Christians in the area around these two towns were gathered up during Marcus Aurelius’s brutal persecution. After suffering social ostracism, they were imprisoned and tortured. Their non-Christian servants and companions, frightened at the prospect of torture, spewed out horrible accusations to justify the official persecution, “[They] accused us of feeding on human flesh… and of committing incest… as well as other abominations which it is unlawful for us even to think of, and which we can scarcely believe ever to have been perpetrated by men. When these things were made public, all were exasperated against us, including some who had formerly shown friendliness…” Oh the power of evil words! Some of these Christians denied their faith in order to avoid the humiliating and excruciating tortures of the red-hot iron chair, of being made sport for wild beasts in the amphitheatre, of being singed with searing plates on the most sensitive parts of their bodies… But those who remained faithful, and gave up their lives rather than deny their faith, prayed for their persecutors, and vocally forgave their fellow Christians who had abjured. So filled with charity were their words of encouragement and pardon, that the Christians who had given in at first regained their courage, and the governor had to re-arrest them and seal their martyrs’ fate. Oh the power of the good and gentle words!
Hold fast, my brave young niece, and positively deny the devil entrance to your speech. Avoid self-satisfying criticism in all its forms, and make every word that comes out of your mouth – that same mouth that receives the very body and blood of Christ our Lord – be a flower of truth and beauty, justice and mercy. Thus you will spread the fire of love, and not the fires of hell.
Your devoted Uncle Eddy