Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Praying with the Martyrs

Though it is arguable that Catholics are responsible for the creation of western civilization, the truth of the matter is that they have not always been liked. For whatever reason, Italians seem to harbor some resentment against the Church. While in the airport in St. Paul, I left my cell phone at the security check point, and upon returning for it, the TSA person looked at me (I was wearing clerics) and handed the phone back saying, "I guess I can trust that it's yours." I was warned by the priest with whom I was traveling that I would likely not hear such a statement again until I returned to the States.

I guess I should not be shocked. Even in the earliest days of the Church, Romans were not especially fond of Catholics, a fact to which the graves of the martyrs attest. Among the things the Romans did not like was the fact that Christians believed in a life to come. As a result, Christians buried their dead as opposed to burning the bodies to release the soul from its fleshy prison. For this reason, over the last week, I have had the opportunity to pray before the mortal remains of many such people who gave their lives for their belief in Jesus Christ and who still await the resurrection of their bodies.

Early in the week we visited the tomb of St. Cecilia. The Romans attempted to kill her in a variety of creative ways before finally having her beheaded. This was a marvelous opportunity as her crypt is seldom open to the public, and we were only permitted to enter the place where her body rests because we were accompanied by Nashville Dominican Sisters who look to her as patron.

The same day, we prayed at the tomb of Catherine of Sienna who, though not martyred, was instrumental in bringing the Pope back to Rome after sixty-some year hiatus in Avignon, France. Most of her body is here in Rome. Her head remains in Sienna.

One of my classmates visited the Basilica of St. Bartholomew today. That church contains relics from a huge number of martyrs from the 20th century. Among them are articles donated to the Church from the execution of various Cristeros, martyred by the Mexican government in the 1920s.

We prayed at the tomb of St. Fabian, Pope and Martyr. On that same day we wandered the Catacombs of St. Sebastian which consists of about eight miles of tunnels full of the graves of Christians. This was the highlight of my week.

While preparing for confirmation, I chose the name Sebastian. His feast falls on January 20 , the day before my birthday (St. Agnes is on January 21, and I certainly did not want to be called Agnes), and is the patron of Athletes (which I am not), Archers (with which I have dabbled), and apparently Roman Traffic Police (again, I am clearly not one). I guess I was attracted to his courage and the odd way in which they tried to kill him. He was a powerful officer in the Roman Military who, upon being discovered as a Christian, was condemned to death. He was shot full of arrows and left for dead, but a Christian woman found him and managed to nurse him back to health. After regaining his strength he appeared before the emperor, still professing his Christian faith. He was condemned to die yet again, and, as with Cecilia, lost his head. He was buried in the catacombs, but his body has been venerated from that time until now. It was a powerful moment for me to kneel at the place where his mortal remains rest, knowing that he intercedes for me in a special way. The picture accompanying this post is of Sebastian's tomb. I am a bit biased, but I think it is one of the most beautiful in Rome.