The Roman Emperor Nero despised the clean, upright living of the Christians in his city. He called them “magicians.” Because, to pagan eyes, the worship of the one, true God looks like superstition or black magic. The pagan Romans generally regarded Christians as excessively religious.
The Roman race believed that they had descended from the ancient warriors of Troy. The Greeks had burned Troy to the ground, during the time when the Judges ruled Israel. The Trojan hero Aeneas fled westward to Italy.
Emperor Nero fantasized about watching Rome burn, just as Aeneas’ famous father-in-law Priam had watched Troy burn. So, it appears, Nero ordered his henchman to set fire to his own city.
But he blamed the magicians for the fire. The people to whom St. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans therefore became martyrs. Burned at the stake. Or fed to packs of wild dogs. Everyone knew they had nothing to do with the big fire. But the Romans killed the Christians anyway.
We read at Holy Mass today: “Jesus saw their faith.”
The martyrs of Nero’s Rome literally provided light int he darkness of a ruined city, as their bodies’ burned during the night. But the truly great light is faith in Christ.
Lord Jesus loved us to the end, and He offered His life in sacrifice for us–to turn death from a curse into a blessing, to make our lives on earth worth living.
The first martyrs of our mother Church gave their lives back to Christ, responding to love with love. There’s no more potent magic.