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St. Xystus and Companions

(This former blog entry has been reedited for 2013.) There are no fewer than four feast days in the Roman-Franciscan calendar this week (Transfiguration, St. Dominic, St. Lawrence and St. Clare of Assisi). Today's observance is classified as a Memorial; however, it is intimately tied to the Feast we celebrate on Friday, that of St. Lawrence. According to the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, seven men were chosen to serve as deacons within the Christian community. One outgrowth of that act is that for hundreds of years after it, the Bishop of Rome was traditionally served by seven deacons. Pope Xystus II, sometimes called St. Sixtus, was served by Januarius, Vincent, Stephan, Magnus, Felicissimus, Agapite, and Lawrence. In 258 A.D., the emperor Valerian ordered the executions of many Christians. St. Sixtus and his seven deacons were among the first to be beheaded.

When the soldiers rushed in to arrest the pope and his deacons, only six of them were present. As they were dragged from the church, the crowd witnessing the arrest included the seventh deacon, Lawrence. As his beloved pastor and his companions were beheaded, tradition says that Lawrence called out to them, wishing to be included in their number. St. Xystus turned to him and told him that he would follow in their footsteps in three days. His prophecy was fulfilled when, three days later, Lawrence was arrested and burned on a gridiron.

They were all buried in the catacombs of St. Callistus where St. Damasus I had this inscription placed on the tomb of his predecessor: At the time when the sword pierced the bowels of the Mother, I, buried here, taught as Pastor the Word of God; when suddenly the soldiers rushed in and dragged me from the chair. The faithful offered their necks to the sword, but as soon as the Pastor saw the ones who wished to rob him of the palm (of martyrdom) he was the first to offer himself and his own head, not tolerating that the (pagan) frenzy should harm the others. Christ, who gives recompense, made manifest the Pastor's merit, preserving unharmed the flock. Thus St. Xystus and his companions are credited with offering their lives for the sake of their congregation.

Our media have been filled with stories of heroic acts of self-sacrifice in the mass murders of Aurora, Colorado, and Oak Park, Wisconsin, and more recently, on the occasion of the Boston Marathon and the fires in Arizona. These modern day heroes have earned a place of honor in the hearts and minds of many, just as these martyrs are still remembered almost two thousand years later.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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