Growing up, my older brother and I occasionally found ourselves in hot water. Silly pranks would lead to our parents questioning us about how something in the house got broken or why our neighbors needed to speak to them. My brother for some reason took the fall for our mischief. I’m not sure why— our parents were strict and punishments could be harsh. Nevertheless, Michael always had my back, which ultimately inspired me to confess my own involvement in the infraction.
During his lifetime, my brother wasn’t very religious nor was he a martyr, but he reminds me of Saint Alban who was the first martyr of Great Britain. Saint Alban is also the patron of the church I serve in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. The legend passed down from the 4th century informs us that Alban met a priest fleeing from persecutors. Alban sheltered the priest in his house and watched him pray day and night. Witnessing the priest’s steadfast faith inspired Alban and he converted to Christianity.
When the persecutors discovered the priest was sheltering in Alban’s house, they came to arrest him. However, Alban put on the priest’s attire and presented himself as the priest to the persecutors. The judge ordered Alban to be scourged, hoping that would make him reconsider his Christian witness. Alban was threatened to endure the punishment the priest would endure if he didn’t recant his profession of faith. Consequently, Alban endured all the torture slated for the priest. Alban responded to the torture by saying, “I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.” Alban stood fast in his faith and bore his suffering with patience and joy. When the persecutor realized the torture would not shake Alban’s faith, he ordered Alban to be beheaded.
However, the story doesn’t end here. As they walked toward the hill of execution, they came upon a river where the bridge was blocked by a crowd. Without a way to cross the river, Alban prayed, and the waters parted, allowing them to pass on dry ground. When Alban was beheaded, the executioner’s eyes fell out, leaving him blind. Alban’s head rolled down the Hill, and where it settled a spring of fresh water sprung up. Th judge was so moved by everything he witnessed that he ordered all persecutions of Christians to cease.
Fortunately, we live in a society that allows religious freedom. As people, we view it as a constitutional right. However, do we fully exercise our right to proclaim the gospel as Christ commissions us? Even though we won’t suffer death for our profession of faith, we may face ridicule or isolation because of our beliefs.
With our busy lives, we face choices that may be difficult to make. Our call to a devout life requires us to perform acts of charity diligently, promptly, and frequently. After working a long week, we may need to determine how we spend our time. Do we spend it with our family, or do we perform an act of charity? Perhaps, the choice doesn’t have to be so difficult. Perhaps, we can align our family activities with our Christian devotion. For example, my wife and I spend time together when I am not working by volunteering or making sandwich bags for different soup kitchens. When our grandchild becomes old enough, we hope to show him that he can live a life centered on others and focus on the love of Christ.
Most likely none of us living in America will have to surrender our lives so that someone else may live. However, we may have to die to self to esteem others, so they can be respected for their individual dignity. We may be required to sacrifice our popularity or our position within society to support the needs of those who society disrespects. As Christians, we must prepare ourselves in mind, body, and spirit to not necessarily take blame for the persecuted, but we must prepare ourselves to suffer in solidarity with those whom society marginalizes. This may not cost us our heads, but it may make us feel isolated in our workplace or our community. Unfortunately, in life, there is a price to pay for being witness to the ever-living Christ.