What Does Martyrdom Mean To Us?

Saint Vincent of Saragossa

Feast Day: 22nd January

Vincent was another victim of Emperor Diocletian’s persecution. Born in Spain, near the city of Grenada where Valerius was Bishop, Vincent was ordained a deacon and although still fairly young and inexperienced, he was appointed to preach and give instruction.

In the year 303 Diocletian’s orders went to every part of the Empire: the Christian Church must be suppressed. The governor of Spain, Dacian, ordered the arrest of Valerius and Vincent. For some reason Valerius was merely banished from the city, but Vincent had to undergo unspeakable torture in an attempt to make him recant. St. Augustine says, “He suffered torments far beyond what any man could possibly have endured unless supported by supernatural strength.”

In spite of his horrific suffering, Vincent remained calm and joyful and never stopped praying. At one point he was left alone in a dark dungeon. A jailer, spying on him saw the prison filled with light and Vincent singing praises to God, and was instantly converted. Dacian was angry at Vincent’s resistance, but at last he allowed him to have some rest. Christian friends came to comfort him and shortly afterwards, in 304, he died.

When we think about martyrdom today, what does it mean to us? Sometimes we use the word in a casual way, “She’s a martyr to rheumatism” or “Stop playing the martyr!” Yet we all know people whose lives are marked by genuine suffering of one kind or another. They may have to live with a difficult partner, be disabled or look after a sick relative or handicapped child. We look at them and say, “How does that person cope?” St. Augustine’s comment on St. Vincent’s martyrdom gives the answer. No-one could endure suffering “unless supported by supernatural strength”.

The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’. We are all asked to give witness to our faith, even when that entails sacrifice and suffering. Like Vincent, we should never cease praying because if God sustained Vincent through this terrible ordeal, He will also help us to face whatever hardship comes our way.

Lord Jesus, there are many of Your followers today whose faith is sorely tested. May they never waver in their following of You and may they be helped by the prayers of Your martyr St. Vincent.