Today is the feast of Pope Saint Sixtus II and six companions – deacons of the church of Rome. They were apprehended while celebrating the Eucharist in the private cemetery of Praetextatus and killed on August 6, 258 AD. Saint Sixtus and four of the deacons – Januarius, Magnus, Stephen, and Vincent – were beheaded there and the two others – Felicissimus and Agapitus – were killed probably later the same day. The seventh of the deacons, and the most famous, Lawrence, was killed on August 10.
In a letter to Successus, St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote about the martyrdom:
The truth of the matter is that [Emperor] Valerian sent a rescript to the senate that provides for the immediate punishment of bishops, presbyters, and deacons…. Sixtus was executed in the cemetery on August 6, and four deacons with him…
How often do we deacons reflect on the commitment of these and other early deacons, to the point of martyrdom?
The Blood of Christ is central to my understanding of the diaconate. The deacon prepares the chalice. He lifts the chalice of the Blood of Christ at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. He is minister of the Eucharist, especially the Blood of Christ, as I heard on the day of my ordination.
Often when I lift the chalice, I recall the Blood of Christ in my hands, the Blood poured out in love, in commitment. Am I willing to give my life, to the point of shedding my blood, for God and for God’s people? Am I willing to pour out my life in serving Christ and those at the margins?
I often pray that I may have the grace and the courage to do this – most of all in my daily life. Stephen, Vincent of Saragossa, Lawrence were among those early deacons who poured out their lives in service of God’s people to the point of shedding their blood.
I don’t know of any contemporary Catholic permanent deacons who have given their lives for God and for God’s people, though many pour themselves out in daily works of dying to self in order to be present to the poor and despised of this earth.
A few days ago I shared on Facebook a quote from blessed Monseñor Enrique Angelelli, Bishop of La Rioja, Argentina, defender of campesinos, martyr, who died in what was made to appear to be a car crash, on August 4, 1976:
“The thought crosses my mind that the Lord needs a bishop in jail or killed in order to make us wake up to our episcopal collegiality and live it more deeply.”
Maybe we need a few deacons in jail or killed to show the mystery of Christ the Servant.
I don’t think I have the guts for this since I have problems giving myself to the ordinary demands of life and ministry.
I don’t seek it, but maybe I should pray that I may be open to giving myself up for God and the poor, as did Lawrence, Januarius, Magnus, Stephen, Vincent, Felicissimus, and Agapitus.