Remembering All the Martyrs of Nero

We call Abraham our father in faith. For one thing, Abraham imitated our heavenly Father in this way: He was prepared to offer his only son in sacrifice. The similarity stuns us when we read, “Abraham took the wood for the offering, and laid it on his son’s shoulders.”

The human race has always known that we make peace with God by offering sacrifice. But, by the same token, we have also never been able, by ourselves, to come up with a truly worthy victim.

Again, in this matter, Abraham acted with pure faith. Isaac asked him, “Father, where is the sheep for the offering?” Our father in faith replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb.”

God provides the peace-making lamb, the victim worthy of sacrifice to the almighty, infinitely good Father.

And in His consummate love for us, God provides this worthy victim from among our own kind. We can boast now, like proud children: ‘Look, Father, we were worthless. But then a worthy man offered Himself to You on our behalf!’

Saints Peter and Paul, and the other Apostles, explained all this to us nearly 2,000 years ago, right when it all happened. Since then, the Lord, acting with the same consummate loving kindness towards us, has provided countless lambs for worthy sacrifice from among the Christian people. Namely, the martyrs.

The Burning of Rome by Robert Hubert
The martyrs did not choose themselves; a self-chosen martyr, in fact, betrays the Gospel.

But God ripened the time, at certain moments, giving certain Christians the consummate opportunity to bear witness. And they went to their deaths singing with joy.

God ripened the time like this in Rome at the dawn of the Christian age. His choice of location was no accident. The Lord, for His own reasons, chose the city of the emperors to be the perennial capital of His Church on earth. So He moistened the earth there with the blood of His chosen witnesses at the very beginning.

When we offer our peace-making sacrifice to the Father, we sometimes refer to Abraham and also to Abel. After Cain killed him out of jealousy, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to God as an urgent prayer.

So, even though today we recall acts of great violence and the shedding of innocent blood, we rejoice. God has taken the malice and selfishness that led to this bloodshed and turned it to our advantage. God is greater than Pontius Pilate; He is greater than the emperor Nero; He is greater than all the evil and discord that rends the history of mankind. At the holy altar of Christ and His martyrs, we find peace.

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