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Sts Leo and Paregorius
(entered heaven this day in 356)
Watch out – I know I’m going to sound like an old crone, but I’m going to say it anyway: choose your friends carefully. That is, unless you don’t care about the health of your soul. You don’t need to read history books to discover that those who hang out with people who like to sin will soon be sinning themselves.
So unless you want to corrupt your conscience and start compromising your standards and poisoning your soul (which is a wonderful way to sabotage your friendship with Christ), watch out. I am not saying you need to avoid all contact with people who aren’t striving to follow Christ (that would be impractical as well as imprudent). But I am saying that those who become your confidants and trusted companions ought to care about what you care about, otherwise you will start caring about what they care about. Do you follow? Today’s saint will make the point clear.
Paregorius and Leo were buddies. They lived in Lycia (near the southwest coast of modern day Turkey). They were Christians, too, in a time when being Christian often meant risking your neck – I mean that literally. Paregorius was apprehended for his faith, and died a martyr, leaving Leo filled with joy for his friend’s victory, but sad that he wasn’t also apprehended and allowed to give the ultimate witness of his love for Christ.
Soon afterwards, the local governor wanted to win some political points, so he decreed that all residents should offer sacrifice to the local gods on the feast day of Serapis (a pagan deity). Leo, a man generally known to be a Christian because of his exceptional virtue, especially his modesty and chastity (sure signs of a Christian in those hedonistic days… kind of like today, actually), was saddened by the long lines of pagans, joined by some fearful Christians, offering their sacrifice. And he went to the tomb of his old friend to pray for strength and find comfort. There he became convinced that God was going to give him a chance to follow in his friend’s footsteps. This filled him with gratitude.
The next time he went to pray at his friend’s tomb, he didn’t take the back streets, but walked right along the main thoroughfares. This caused him to pass by the temple of the pagan goddess of Fortune, where a celebration was going on. Moved by the Spirit, he entered and began smashing their lanterns and stomping out their candles, all the while challenging the pagans with “Let your gods avenge the damage if they can!” His boldness won him an arrest.
In the following interrogation he defended Christ eloquently, courageously, and reasonably, planting the seeds of faith in the hearts of many who listened to him. Here’s an example of his brilliant defense – it’s one of my favorite lines, which he used in response to the judge’s invitation to forego the “narrow” road of Christ and take the “wide and easy” road of the pagans, precisely because it was so wide and easy:
“When I called it narrow,” said the martyr, “this was only because it is not entered without difficulty, and that its beginnings are often attended with afflictions and persecutions for justice sake. But being once entered, it is not difficult to keep in it by the practice of virtue, which helps to widen it and render it easy to those that persevere in it, which has been done by many.”
His arguments didn’t prevail on the magistrate, who had him scourged, and when that didn’t change the saint’s mind, condemned him to be dragged by his feet to the place of execution and there cast over the cliff to his death.
Do you think he regretted his friendship with Paregorius? Do you think he regrets it now? Do you think he would have been able to bear such bold witness if he were hanging out with pagans during all his free times? Watch out, my amiable young nephew; keep first things first.
Your concerned uncle,