Twenty One Saints Everyone Must Know XXI - XIX

The Church, or the community of believers, is surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses,” righteous souls of brothers and sisters who have passed on to the glory and whose presence sustains their brothers and sisters on this earth (Hebrews 12:1). These souls are the various Martyrs and Saints whose witness for Christ strengthens their contemporary brothers and sister, while also planting the seed of the Church among the heathens. Today, the Saints still shower us with their prayers and intercession, helping us in our journey to our heavenly home. Their protection and intercession is a gift of God who promises that “watchmen” will always be “posted” around the “walls of Jerusalem,” which refers to the Church of the New Testament (Isaiah 62:6). These “watchmen” will never be “silent day or night” (Isaiah 62:6). They will not “give themselves rest,” nor will they give the Lord any “rest till He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth” (Isaiah 62:7). Having been promised this heavenly assistance from Our Lord, it is important to get acquainted with these prayer warriors who constantly intercede for us while we continue our fight against the Devil, the world and ourselves. There are 21 Saints that everyone must know and whose intercession all believers must seek. Here they are.

St. Gregory the Great 540 - 604
21-St. Gregory the Great (c.540 AD – 604 AD) [Doctor of the Church] St. Gregory comes from a family of Saints. His mother is St. Silvia. His two aunts, Tarsilla and Emiliana, are also canonized Saints. Close to the age of 30, St. Gregory becomes the prefect of Rome; this position has lost much of its magnificence and prestige at the time, even though it remains the most important one in Rome. Upon retiring his station in the political arena, Gregory enters St. Andrew’s monastery, to which he is later appointed an Abbot. This period in Gregory’s life seems to be the most peaceful and serene time in his life.  In 590 AD when Pope Pelagius dies, Gregory is elected as next pope. He implores the Emperor Maurice not to confirm the appointment. However, his correspondence is blocked by Germanus, the prefect of the city, and rather than receiving Gregory’s petition, the emperor receives a formal schedule of the election sent by the prefect. St. Gregory never recovers the peace and quiet that he enjoys at St. Andrews after he becomes the pope. The invasion of the Lombards, one of many barbarian tribes that overrun Rome, puts an end to the imperial power, which the city has been practicing over the rest of Italy. However, Gregory’s rise to papacy not only saves Rome from falling into anonymity and mediocrity, but also shapes much of medieval ecclesiology. His correspondence with the Bishop of Constantinople and other Eastern Churches, clearly pronounce the primacy of the Bishop of Rome over the Church Universal. Aside from being venerated in the Catholic Church, St. Gregory is also honoured by the Eastern Orthodox, the Anglican Communion as well as the Lutheran churches. John the Faster, the Patriarch of Constantinople, ascribes to himself the title of Ecumenical Bishop at a local synod that is held in 588 AD. St. Gregory rejects the title and refuses to acknowledge it. Instead, he writes an Epistle that clearly spells out the primacy of his office over the rest of the Church, both Western and Eastern. He writes, “As regards the Church of Constantinople, who can doubt that it is subject to the Apostolic See? Why, both our most religious lord the emperor, and our brother the Bishop of Constantinople continually acknowledge it” (Epistle 9.12). Under his papacy, Church-State relations seem to be a thing that current governments in the west could look to as a pattern to be reproduced. Being greatly concerned with the wellbeing of his sheep, Gregory advocates a form of cooperation between Church and State to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the citizens. St. Gregory’s distinguished performance as a pope cannot be outlined in detail here. However, one important contribution he makes to Christendom is his care to evangelize the British. He sends St. Augustine of Canterbury, the Apostle to the English, to the British Isles where Christianity is restricted to isolated monasteries, which gradually decline into insignificant presence after the Roman legions retreat from the area in 410 AD.  The mission is very successful, and the Catholic faith is established as the main religion of the Isles. Paganism and other deviations from the Christian faith give way to the Catholic Church. For this reason, the British affectionately label St. Gregory as “our Pope,” “our Master,” “our Apostle,” or “our Gregory.” After fourteen years of serving as a pope, St. Gregory dies in 604 AD; he is canonized immediately after his death by popular acclamation.

St. Ignatius of Antioch
 20-St. Ignatius of Antioch (c.50 AD – 98-117 AD)  [Martyr]
It is believed that St. Ignatius is the child whom Our Lord takes in His loving arms and of whom He says, “Whosoever shall receive one such child as this in my name receives me” (Mark 9:35). He is the third Bishop of Antioch, the first being St. Peter and the second, Evodius. He is appointed to the See of Antioch by St. Peter the Apostle. St. Ignatius is also known as Theophorus, which means God-bearer. After Emperor Trajan (98 AD – 117 AD) wins a battle in Syria, he desires an empire that is more closely united. Consequently he decrees that Christians must make a sacrifice to the gods along with their pagan friends, or face death. St. Ignatius uses every means at his disposal to strengthen his flock and keep them from participating in this worship. His ministry earns him a reputation of which Trajan himself hears. Consequently, he is ordered to appear before the emperor in front of whom Ignatius calls himself Theophorus, God-bearer. Trajan asks him, “Do we not then seem to you to have the gods in our mind, whose assistance we enjoy in fighting against our enemies?” Ignatius bravely responds “You are in error when you call the demons of the nations gods. For there is but one God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that are in them; and one Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, whose kingdom may I enjoy” (Martyrdom of Ignatius, 2). With this response, Trajan orders Ignatius to be taken to Rome where he is to be offered to the beasts as a spectacle for people’s entertainment. St. Ignatius clasps his hands jubilantly and thanks God for granting him the opportunity of offering himself as a martyr. On his way to Rome, he writes seven epistles, six of which are written to churches and the seventh is written to St. Polycarp, his friend, the Bishop of Smyrna. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius entreats the Romans, who plan a rescue attempt, not to interfere with his martyrdom. He states, “All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth” (Epistle to Romans, 6). St. Ignatius finally makes it to Rome after a long and arduous journey accompanied by guards whom he likens to “leopards” (Epistle to Romans, 5). There, he is fed to the lions. He dies bravely as a true witness of Christ. His remains are taken to Antioch, and later to the Temple of Tyche, which is converted to a church by Theodosius II. This soldier of Christ is another example of bravery whose “blood” becomes the “seed of the Church” (Tertullian, Apologeticus 50). St. Ignatius is the pupil of St. John the Apostle. He is the earliest of the Church Fathers who affirm the Catholic doctrine of Real Presence (the consecration of the bread and wine at Mass turns them literally into the body and blood of Our Lord). He says that he desires “the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life” (Epistle to Romans, 7).

St. Polycarp
 19-St. Polycarp (69 AD – 155-167 AD) [Martyr]
An eyewitness account of this holy martyr’s death says that St. Polycarp dies valiantly and boldly declaring Christ as King and Lord during the reign of either Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161 AD - 180 AD) or Emperor Antonius Pius (138 AD – 161 AD). St. Polycarp is another witness to the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church. He is ordained as Bishop of Smyrna by St. John the Apostle. At the age of 86, Polycarp agrees to escape the city after much persuasion due to the explicit search warrant issued to apprehend him. Finally, when the Roman soldiers successfully locate him in a house outside of the city, rather than embracing the opportunity given to him to flee, he greets them graciously and offers them food and drink while they allow him to remain another hour to pray.  Two hours later, he is taken into the city where he is to be fed to the beasts. On his way, he crosses paths with Irenarch Herod, the officer in charge of enforcing the decree issued by the emperor that everyone must offer incense to the gods of Rome. Herod takes him into the chariot and asks him, “What harm is there in saying, Lord Cæsar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?” St. Poly responds, “I will not do as you advise me” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 8). Then he is pushed out of the chariot violently. Once he arrives at the stadium where the crowds cheer wildly and viciously, thirsty to see another bloody spectacle made of the rebellious Christians who refuse to offer incense and be fed to the beasts instead, St. Polycarp hears a voice saying to him, “Be strong and show yourself a man, O Polycarp” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9).  He enters the stadium and the proconsul persuades him to “have respect” for his “old age” and agree to offer the sacrifice, upon which he will gain his freedom once again. St. Polycarp rejects the offer. The proconsul persists and urges Polycarp to “reproach Christ” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9). Polycarp’s response is “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9). When threatened with wild beasts, St. Polycarp embraces the prospect of being devoured by wild animals fearlessly. Consequently, the proconsul decides to burn him. His hands are tied and great piles of wood are gathered to carry out the endeavour, which is applauded by the cheering crowds. Once the wood is set on fire, rather than devouring the martyr, the flames spread around him in an arc, and his body appears to be like gold when it is placed inside a furnace. His body is not harmed. Also, the odour of frankincense fills the place. After a long while, the soldiers see that his body is not being consumed by fire. The proconsul orders one of the soldiers to pierce Polycarp’s body with a dagger. The soldier carries out the command, and Polycarp’s blood comes gushing down, putting out the blazing flames.  The audience marvels with a great sense of awe at the miraculous incident. St. Polycarp is also a friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch. The two meet each other while St. Ignatius is on his way to Rome to be devoured by beasts. May the prayers of this holy martyr grant us the courage to remain steadfast in our witness for Lord Jesus Christ.


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