The Power of Love
The power of love is one of the most powerful gifts that Christ shares with his followers.
Now, it’s true that it’s hard to live as a Christian publicly these days. And, yes, it’s likely to get worse. The lives of the martyrs remind us that there have been Christians (and still are in many parts of the world) who suffer much, much worse things than we do today in the United States.
Today’s saint, St. Julia of Corsica (also known as St. Julia of Carthage), is a good example. St. Julia was a 5th century martyr who refused to be seduced by personal gain or cowed by the threat of torture and death. I published my first post about St. Julia eight years ago. It became one of the most popular pages on my original blog, a testimony to the timelessness (and the timeliness) of this saint. A testimony, in other words, to the power of love.
St. Julia’s story throws an interesting light on the situation in which we find ourselves today. Her story starts in Carthage in the 5th century, where she was born into a noble family. When the Vandals captured and sacked that ancient city, Julia fell into the hands of slave traders. A Syrian merchant named Eusebius purchased her. Despite the hardships and humiliations of her servile state she remained content. More than that, she was cheerful because of her piety and her deep love of Christ. These same qualities greatly endeared her to her master.
Love for the Lord
On one occasion, when Julia was on a journey with her master, he stopped at the island of Corsica where the locals were celebrating a pagan festival. Eusebius joined in the revelry; Julia, needless to say, stayed away. Her refusal to participate greatly annoyed the local governor, a man called Felix. According to the account in Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Felix
asked who this woman was who dared to insult the gods. Eusebius informed him that she was a Christian, and that all his authority over her was too weak to prevail with her to renounce her religion, but that he found her so diligent and faithful he could not part with her.
This governor, however, was not one to take no for an answer. First, he offered Eusebius four of his own female slaves in exchange for the one Julia. Eusebius, however, emphatically refused to surrender her. Next, after her master had fallen asleep, the governor approached Julia directly, offering to free her if only she would sacrifice to the pagan gods. She answered that she was “as free as she desired to be as long as she was allowed to serve Jesus Christ.” Felix fell into a rage at this answer, and then he tortured and crucified her. Neither the bribes nor the threats of the governor could overcome Julia’s love for her Lord.
“The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
The Seed of the Church
Needless to say, St. Julia paid a much higher price for her faith than mere cancellation from social media. Let’s look at a few points that stand out from the account of her life. First and foremost, Julia’s devotion to Christ and her courage in the face of unspeakable suffering is an inspiration to us. Maybe I’ll remember that the next time I’m feel the temptation to “go along with the crowd.” Maybe when I’m afraid of the disapproval or verbal abuse of others, I’ll take some strength from Julia’s fortitude in the face of much, much worse persecution.
Julia also shows us the power of example. Clearly, her character and virtue made a large impression on her master Eusebius. It’s true that her diligence and fidelity alone were not enough to win him over to the faith, at least not right away. On the other hand, they did give him the courage to stand up to the governor Felix. In fact, the virtues she gained from her faith convinced him not to give her up for, literally, any price.
None of the accounts I have seen, unfortunately, tell us anything about what eventually happened to Eusebius. One wonders whether the example of her heroic martyrdom was finally enough to make him a Christian. We do know that the witness of the martyrs was crucial to the conversion of very many people. The fruitfulness of that witness inspired Tertullian to say: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
A Saint for Our Time
Julia’s story also tells us something about the nature of sin. It brings to mind Father Richard John Neuhaus’ aphorism: “When orthodoxy becomes optional, sooner or later it will become proscribed”. Simply doing the right thing, in other words, looks like a rebuke to those who are doing the wrong thing. Look at Julia: she wasn’t interfering with the pagan festival, she was simply staying away. The governor, however, couldn’t tolerate anyone who was not actively endorsing his activities.
How often have we seen this same attitude today. We can see that the advocates of a “New Orthodoxy” will certainly try to destroy the reputation and livelihood of anyone who does not publicly cheer for their moral and societal innovations. Of course, at least in the United States, nobody is literally suffering crucifixion.
Nevertheless, the consequences of trying to live a Gospel life are real. The list of people runs from celebrities on down to ordinary people including school counselors and college professors and students. They have been “cancelled” merely for stating their adherence to things that were considered to be common sense up until the day before yesterday. We all know about the weak-kneed corporations giving into leftist bullying. Within the last couple of years we have seen communications monopolies such as Twitter, Facebook, and the rest become bolder than ever in their attempts to shut down speech that doesn’t adhere to the politically correct point of view.
Newspeak vs. The Eternal Word
Regarding which situation, look at the stances that draw the most fire from the Woke Cancellation Mob. They are not only things that virtually everyone has traditionally taken for granted. They are also matters of clear Catholic teaching. Consider the following questions from then Senator, now Vice President (!) Kamala Harris directed toward judicial nominee Brian C. Buescher. Mr. Buescher, it seems, belonged to what Senator Harris and Senator Mazie Hirono characterized as an “extremist” organization:
“Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization? . . . Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when you joined the organization?”
Of course, in the Orwellian language of the left, “a woman’s right to choose” means unfettered legal abortion. Likewise , “marriage equality” is newspeak for redefining marriage to include same sex couples. The senators, therefore, were berating Buescher for the simple fact of adhering to Catholic doctrine.
The Dogma Lives Loudly
This was not an isolated incident. A year earlier, Senator Dianne Feinstein in a similar way confronted judicial nominee (and eventual Supreme Court Justice) Amy Coney Bryant. Bryant is also a Catholic. Feinstein disapprovingly pronounced, “the dogma lives loudly within you.” In other words, if you’re a believing Catholic, you’re not fit to be a federal judge. The year after Harris’s grilling of Buescher, Senator Cory Booker followed the same script. He demanded of Neomi Rao, another nominee for a federal judgeship (and in her case a convert to Judaism) “whether you believe it is sinful for two men to be married?”
The Constitution’s explicit ban on “religious tests” for office did nothing to deter these prominent politicians. Likewise, no fear of electoral backlash restrained their overt shows of anti-religious bigotry. Tellingly, at the time two of them were actively seeking the presidency.
Wrong at the Roots
Given that, it should come as no surprise that the administration in which former Senator Harris now serves has promulgated a rule denying conscience protection to Catholic and other doctors morally opposed to “gender reassignment” surgery. Likewise, it is promoting the so-called “Equality Act,” which would force pro-life doctors to perform abortions.
We should not conclude from the examples above that this is primarily a political problem: as we have seen before (here and here, for instance), politics is an outgrowth of things going on at deeper levels in society, in the culture and, more fundamentally still, on the religious level. Politics reflects changes that have already taken place on those deeper levels, and if major national politicians believe that they can get away with such overtly anti-Christian behavior (and why shouldn’t they? It’s worked so far), something has already gone very wrong at the roots.
An Alternate Religion
In fact, aggressive secularism has not only taken over the culture, but has also taken on the the role of an alternate religion. It is now fighting traditional Christian belief for possession of the deepest foundations of our society. The secularists can draw on their cultural influence to acquire political power, and then in turn use their political gains to protect what they have won on the other levels. As Austin Ruse said in an essay published on the Crisis website last year:
Catholics and other Christians must understand that we are not merely up against a new faith but a new faith that is an established Church backed by the power of the federal, state, and local governments.
Like St. Julia, simply by believing in orthodox Christianity and following its precepts, we are seen as a threat by that rival faith.
More Precious Than Gold Tested By Fire
But, of course, that’s not the end of the story. Christ sent the Holy Spirit down on his Church at Pentecost, the Church against which, he had promised Peter, the “Gates of Hell” would not prevail (Matthew 16:17) . . . but he had also promised persecution (Matthew 5:11). The Persecution was not long in coming. The same Peter who boldly addresses the wondering crowds on Pentecost will soon be writing to the early Christians:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.(1 Peter 1:6-7)
Granted, the sort of harassment Christians face in the secular West does not come close to that faced by the Early Church or by martyrs like St. Julia . . . yet. We can’t say the same for much of the Islamic world, where Christians face tremendous violence or, increasingly, in communist China. We are kidding ourselves if we think it can’t happen here. At the same time, throughout the history of the Church we have seen that even the most zealous persecutors can sometimes experience conversion. From St. Paul himself through the Nazi death-camp guards who were awed by the martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the faith and Christ-like serenity of their victims can win apparent enemies for Christ.
Sharing in Christ’s Sufferings
The ancient accounts don’t tell us, but St. Julia’s master Eusebius, or even the governor Felix, might well have been among these converts. Whether or not St. Julia’s martyrdom moved them in this way, we can be sure that she did move many of the other pagan witnesses.
Finally, the times are dark, but be of good cheer. The example of St. Julia of Corsica is a reminder that, although there will always be defeats along the way, Christ wins in the end. If we can put our Hope in His promise and rely on the support of the Holy Spirit, as Julia did, we can persevere. As St. Peter said: “Rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 13).