Feast Day of St. Sixtus and Companions
Freedom to assemble has always been one of the first liberties that dictators deny to subjects (and one highly prized by our American forebears). The emperor Valerian published his first decree against Christians in 257 and forbade them to hold assemblies. Pope Sixtus had been pope for only one year when he was murdered while presiding at the Eucharist in one of the underground caverns used as cemeteries (catacombs). He and four deacons were seized and beheaded. Two other deacons were probably martyred the same day, and Saint Lawrence four days later.
During his year in office, Sixtus had to deal with the controversy about the validity of baptism by heretics. He supported the positive view but was tolerant toward the practice of the Eastern Church which rebaptized those who had received the sacrament from heretics.
The negative view was shared by Saint Cyprian, to whom Sixtus sent messengers for discussion. Sixtus was asked to be patient with those in error, and contented himself with a strong recommendation of the truth. Other popes did the same, until the error was finally condemned.
What are we willing to suffer to practice our faith? In times of persecution, Christians have always dared to come together to celebrate the Eucharist—huddled in a corner of the prison, risking life and possessions—in Ireland, for example, by providing “priest’s holes.” Those of us who live in Christian lands can scarcely comprehend the possibility: Does the Eucharist mean so much to us that, under government persecution, we would gather at night in one of our homes to celebrate the mystery of the Body and Blood of Jesus, risking that fatal knock on the door?
St. Sixtus and Companions, pray for us.