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Saints Cosmas and Damian

Today is the memorial of Saints Cosmas and Damian. It is the titular feast day of the friary in which I live and of the little church (San Damiano) in which St. Francis of Assisi heard the voice of Jesus tell him to "rebuild my church." Consequently, it has a special place in the hearts of all Franciscans. To this day, we Franciscans refer to the image as the San Damiano Crucifix.

According to Christian traditions, Saints Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, physicians, and early Christian martyrs born in Cilicia, part of today's Turkey. They practiced their profession in the Roman province of Syria. Accepting no payment for their services led to them being named "Unmercenary"; it has been said that, by this, they attracted many to the Christian faith. According to the Roman martyrology, three of their brothers – Anthimuss, Leontius, and Euprepius – were martyred with them during the persecution of Diocletian. The brothers are among the Roman martyrs mentioned in the Roman Canon or First Eucharistic Prayer. The picture above is from the apse of the Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian in Rome and shows them being presented to Jesus by the apostles Peter and Paul.

What caught my attention today was the notion that they practiced medicine and did not demand payment for their labor. This is remarkable on two counts. First of all, most physicians at this time, as hard as it may be for us to believe, did not actually "practice" medicine. They spent their days debating treatments and cures. They were hesitant to actually treat a patient because they could be held liable if their treatment did not effect a cure. Consequently, most medicine was practiced by folk healers at that time. Cosmas and Damian apparently were the exception to that rule. One legend tells of their attaching the leg of a corpse to a man whose own leg was ulcerous. Though the legend itself is suspect, it does tell us that Cosmas and Damian actually treated sick people.

Secondly, they did not accept payment. This is almost certainly the factor that called attention to their Christian faith for which they were eventually martyred.

Though most of us living at San Damiano will probably focus more on the connection these two martyrs have to our founder, St. Francis, they are men who stand as examples to all. They are the patron saints of physicians and of children under the age of seven. They certainly are also patrons for CUSANS, especially those who are constantly having to deal with the myriads of doctors and specialists we see throughout our lives. God be praised for such examples.

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