09 October 2012

Will you lose your head?

Each year when the memorial of Saint Denis rolls around I am reminded of this scene from Jim Hensen's Labyrinth:

I know.  My mind makes strange connections.  If you don't understand, you soon will.  I hope.

Following the persecutions of the Emperor Decius (r. 249-251), the Church in Gaul, which had been thriving, was left in great disarray.  Faced the threat of death because of their belief in Christ, many Christians denying the divinity of Christ and returned to their former pagan ways.

Seeking to restore the vigor of the faith, Pope Saint Fabian (d. 250) sent several Bishops to Gaul, one of whom was Denis, the first Bishop of Paris.  Accompanying Denis were Rusticus, a priest, and Eleutherius, a deacon.

Saint Denis' preaching quickly won converts back to the Church, which naturally angered the pagan priests who convinced governor to deal with them.

It is said that Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius were beheaded on Montmartre (Mount of Martyrs), but Saint Denis apparently was not pleased with this location.  After his execution his body picked up his head and carried some distance to a nearby village where he laid down and died.  A church was built at this place in his honor.

Naturally, following their martyrdom, the faith began to flourish in Gaul once again.  It is a good reminder of the observation of Tertullian: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

In our own day, following a different and more subtle form or persecution, many Christians have fallen away from the Church.  They may have renounced their faith in a formal way, but they are not engaged in the practice of the faith.

This situation presents a particular challenge to us all and it is in part why Pope Benedict XVI has declared the coming Year of Faith, which begins on Thursday.  As the Holy Father wrote, "To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year."

Saint Denis and his companions gave up their lives so the faith would grow.  I wonder: In this coming year, what is the Lord calling us to give up so the faith will grow?

Perhaps the Lord isn't calling us to lose our heads physically, but perhaps he is calling us to lose them spiritually as we lose ourselves in the great adventure of the Paschal Mystery.

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