Sunday, June 18, 2017

Saints Mark and Marcellian, Martyrs

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We have already met with these noble athletes of today’s feast, for on January 20th, when celebrating Saint Sebastian, the brave defender of holy Church, Mark and Marcellian appeared at his side as the noblest conquest won by the sainted head of the prætorian guards. There are other heroes likewise, gained over by his zealous intrepidity, whose names gild the pages of the Martyrology; but these two whose festival we are keeping were the immediate occasion of Sebastian’s leading to God so goodly a troop of valiant Christians. Their conversion prepared Sebastian’s martyrdom by reason of his apostolate in their regard; and their glory eternally redounds to him around whom in heaven they form a resplendent phalanx.

Captivity, torments, and even the sentence of death pronounced upon them, had failed to shake the courage of these two brethren. A trial yet more terrible awaited them, namely, the sight forced upon them of the heart-broken grief caused to all they loved on earth, by this their sentence of condemnation; for their family not being Christian knew no bounds to sorrow. Their father and mother bent down by years, the wife of each, leading by the hand or in her arms a group of weeping children, all uttering bitterest reproaches against these soldiers of Christ, for the destitution into which their coming death would plunge the survivors; such was the dire attack! Sebastian, profiting by the liberty his position afforded to approach the Christians in prison, was ever their comfort and encourager. He failed not to be present at this scene, for his noble heart fully realized how dangerously severe such a trial must be for souls as yet unscathed by any personal peril. The danger he knew might be imminent, at that moment; wherefore scorning his own safety, he there and then revealed himself a Christian, in order to hold out a strengthening hand to the two brethren. Moreover, God lent such wondrous efficacy to his words that they converted even the pagans there assembled. Thus Mark and Marcellian had the joy of beholding those whose piteous complaints had, a moment before, so painfully thrilled their souls, now applauding their constancy and demanding baptism. Their unbounded happiness was evident all through their final conflict, which opened heaven to them, and which is related as follows in this short Lesson:

Marcus et Marcellianus fratres Romani, propter christianam fidem a Fabiano duce comprehensi, ad stipitem alligati sunt, pedibus clavis confixis. Ad quos cum ita loqueretur judex: Resipicite, miseri, et vos ipsos ab his cruciatibus eripite; responderunt: Nunquam tam jucunde epulati sumus, quam hæc libenter Jesu Christi causa perferimus, in cujus amore nunc fixi esse cœpimus; utinam tamdiu nos hæc pati sinat, quamdiu hoc corruptibili corpore vestiti erimus. Qui diem noctemque in tormentis divinas laudes canentes, denique telis transfixi, ad martyrii gloriam pervenerunt. Quorum corpora via Ardeatina sepulta sunt.

Mark and Marcellian were two brothers, Romans, who were arrested by the Prefect, Fabian, for believing in Christ, and were fastened to a beam, to which their feet were nailed. The judge said to them: “Wretched creatures, do think for a moment, and free yourselves from such suffering.” But they answered him: “Never did we enjoy any banquet so much as we do what we are now undergoing for Jesus Christ’s sake, in whose love we now begin to be firmly fixed: would that He might let us suffer this as long as we are clad in this corruptible body!” Still suffering, they for a day and a night sang the praises of God continually, and in the end were thrust through with darts, and so attained the glory of martyrdom. Their bodies are buried in the Via Ardeatina.

The Holy Ghost filled you with strength, O glorious Martyrs; and the love which he poured into your hearts changed into exquisite delights, torments that terrify our cowardice. Yet, after all, of how much less account are those tortures that touched but your perishable body, compared with that intense anguish of soul over which you so nobly triumphed? The dire grief of those whom you held dearer far than life, and whom, to all appearance, you needs must leave in hopeless woe, was verily the culminating pitch of your martyrdom. Only such can fail to realize this, who deserve the reproach cast by Saint Paul upon the pagans of his day, that they are without affection; yes, when the world once more presents such a hateful spectacle as this, then will the sign of the last day’s near approach, so says the same Apostle. Nevertheless, human love must needs cede to that of God: He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me: and he who loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me. You understood all this, dear Martyrs; your relatives who would separate you from our Lord, became but enemies in your eyes. At that very instant, our Jesus, who can never let himself be outdone in generosity, restored these dear ones to you, by taking them, through a miracle of grace, together with you and because of your example, unto himself. Thus do you complete for us the instructions already given, by a Julitta and her boy, by a Vitus and his glorious Companions. Obtain for us, ye victors in such keen trials, an ever-growing courage and love proportionate to our increase in the light and knowledge of our duty to God.

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