Summary: "Mere" laymen can have a long-lasting impact by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.

26 September 2011

Cosmas, Damian, and Lorenzo Ruiz

The eighth chapter of the book of Zechariah is the last chapter that scholars attribute to the prophet, rather than one of his disciples. It was written after the Babylonian exiles, when the people of Judah had returned to Jerusalem and were in great danger. What had been a great and prosperous people under the early kings of Israel and Judah was now hobbled, weakened by the effects of their ancestors’ sins and their own. The Jews had turned away from the Lord in the centuries before the exile, but–Zechariah hoped–they would be embraced by the Lord, and would again be His prosperous and faithful people. This hope was not fulfilled in Zechariah’s day. Even up to the time of Our Lord, the Jews–like the rest of us–were stiff-necked people. Even Jesus’s disciples were constantly majoring in minors–here arguing about who was the greatest. They were playing a children’s game of King of the Hill, instead of assuming a childlike faith in Jesus and spending their time and energy pursuing His kingship. Indeed, as Jesus pointed out in the last little story, the disciples’ puerile attitude apparently drove away some of Jesus’s disciples, who went off and performed signs and wonders in Jesus’s name anyway.

Today I would like to consider three of the saints we commemorate this week, Cosmas and Damian today, and Lorenzo Ruiz and companions in a couple of days. These three men were laypeople separated in time by over a thousand years. Cosmas and Damian, who were martyred during the reign of that bloody tyrant Diocletian, were physicians of the third century. Lorenzo Ruiz was a Filipino martyred in the Japanese persecution of 1637. And there we usually end the stories. But if we did, we would miss the richness of a life that we could truly relate to.

Cosmas and Damian–whom we honor with mention in the Roman Canon, Eucharistic Prayer I, were physicians. The Greeks call them anargyroi, "without money,” because of their charitable medical work. “This classification of saints is unique to the Eastern Church and refers to those who heal purely out of love for God and man, strictly observing the command of Jesus: "Freely have you received, freely give."” They actually worked in the same province that St. Paul was born in, Cilicia, hundreds of years earlier. Many miraculous cures were attributed to them both before and after their deaths. They were examples of men who did ordinary work extraordinarily well. Such work is really the work of the Holy Spirit acting in them.

Lorenzo Ruiz was part of the third generation of Filipinos under Spanish rule, and Catholic culture. He became an altar server and clerk-calligrapher for the Dominican missionaries. He married and became the father of two children. Then, in 1636, all hell broke loose.

Remember that Filipinos were second-class people under Spanish rule. It appears that he was falsely accused of murdering a Spaniard. Under threat of prison and death, he took refuge with the Dominican missionaries on a ship bound for Okinawa. They had escaped from the frying pan into the fire–the Japanese were rounding up every Catholic they could find, and sending them to Nagasaki for trial. The Tsurushi, or “reverse hanging” torture trial, invented by the Japanese for Christian suspects, is too cruel to describe here, but it does involve hanging the subject upside down inside a pit. Lorenzo and his companions refused to recant their faith, and died. His ashes were thrown in the ocean. Thus it is hoped by all tyrants that faith will be obliterated.

In every age there are enemies of the Gospel. In every age, the Holy Spirit raises up Catholic faithful to be witnesses–some even to death. In our age of the triumph of secularism, leaders without faith are constantly hacking away at the edifices of faith. Sometimes they are even aided by the fifth column within the Church. But God will not be mocked; he will always be faithful. Let’s pray that new generations will daily grow in faith and charity so that the twenty-first century can truly be a time of witness, and of conversion and healing, for a culture and society in desperate need of both.

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