God isn’t particular about who he chooses. He isn’t biased or prone to pick one person over the other. We all know this. God loves us all. Equally. The good as well as the bad. The pagan and the pious. He calls each of us to Him. To love Him. To know Him. To serve Him. So that we can be happy with Him in the next. The calendar of the Holy Mother Church reflects exactly this. We have a list of saints and blesseds who come from all over, and from all times… Many of them so different from one another, yet called by the same Lord.
First we have Saint Justin the Martyr. He was a pagan for the first thirty years of his life. Raised in a pagan town by pagan parents. He was well educated and yearned for the Truth. He sought knowledge on a theological level. He was looking for something he could believe in. He went through several philosophers but was still left longing for something more. He wandered about, engaging anyone he could. At one point he met a philosopher who taught him about Platonism. He was overpowered with the abstract ideas and felt that finally his mind had been given the wings it needs so that it could soar…but there was still something missing…he was still left longing for something more.
One day as he was at the beach he happened upon an old gentleman. They struck up a conversation and the old man spoke with him about the existence of God and shared with him the testimony of the prophets. Saint Justin was enthralled. The wisdom of the prophets was far more reasonable than the reasoning of the philosophers he had been wasting his time with...he was hooked…This ‘Christianity’ was the something that had been missing. From “Justin’s Dialogue With Tryphor” we read:
“There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things, and of those matters which the philosopher ought to know, provided he has believed them. For they did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief; and those events which have happened, and those which are happening, compel you to assent to the utterances made by them, although, indeed, they were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ [sent] by Him: which, indeed, the false prophets, who are filled with the lying unclean spirit, neither have done nor do, but venture to work certain wonderful deeds for the purpose of astonishing men, and glorify the spirits and demons of error. But pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.”
Filled with this new knowledge, Justin abandoned his pagan ways and decided to rededicate himself to serving God. He found great courage when reading about the early Christians and martyrs. He was convinced of the superiority of the Christian doctrine through their exemplary examples of heroic virtue. Hr decided that his only option was to travel throughout the lands spreading the Faith….spreading Christianity through the lands. Becoming one of the first great Christian Apologists. He became one of the most notorious writers for the Faith, often combining his Christian Faith with the best elements in Greek philosophy.
Taking on the dress of the ancient philosophers, Justin traveled about preaching and sharing the Christian Faith with everyone. It comes as no surprise that he was arrested with four of his students, Chariton, Charites, paeon and Liberianus. They were brought before the Roman Prefect Rusticus. Their crime? They were accused of not making sacrifices to pagan idols. When Rusticus demanded that they obey the pagan gods at once, Justin responded, “To obey the commandments of our Savior Jesus Christ is worthy neither of blame nor of condemnation.”
When Justin and his companions were questioned about their beliefs, each one admitted that he was a Christian, even though doing so would mean certain death. Then when the prefect tried to encourage the others to blame Justin for their conversion to Christianity, they replied; “It was not Justin who made us Christians, but God.”
Just before Rusticus sentenced them he asked Justin, “If you are killed do you suppose you will go to heaven?” Justin said, “I do not suppose it, but I know and am fully persuaded of it.”
Justin and his fellow martyrs were beheaded in the year 165 and went to be with the God Who made them. The God that Justin had longed for all his life.
The next saint or ‘Blessed’ on this great list is Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini. Now unlike Justin, Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrni, came from a deeply religious family. But like Justin, he too studied philosophy and theology. But he was afforded the correct view from the beginning. He was learning how the two intertwined…how they complimented each other. He was a good student and was soon ordained a priest. He became a bishop at the early age of 36.
Called to evangelize, he traveled extensively, visiting all 365 parishes he served, many of which, could only be reached by foot or on the back of a mule.
He was very devoted to the Eucharist and held a Synod dedicated to Christ in the Eucharist. He encouraged the faithful to love the Eucharist and encouraged Perpetual Adoration among all the faithful.
He was devoted to his people. Giving of everything he possessed. He gave away his money and helped farmers who were struggling. At one point he even sold his pectoral cross that Pope Pius IX had given him so that he could provide food and care for the needy. He helped immigrants and the poor. No one’s suffering went unnoticed. He helped everyone, convinced that the Church was the answer for all of society’s ills. He wanted everyone to be catechized. To make sure of this, he planned and presided over the first National Catechetical Congress in 1889.
Like Saint Justin, Giovanni worked tirelessly, helping people find their vocation in life. He worked with the notion that everything one did could be used to sanctify them… he wasted nothing. He felt that everyone was called to sainthood, and he wanted to help everyone heed that call.
Blessed Giovanni is not remembered so much because of the fact that he was a bishop, no, he is remembered because he lived his vocation to the best of his ability. He never gave up. His motto in life was the same one that St Paul had: “Make yourself everything to everyone.” He was a pioneer of sorts, often times thinking outside of the box. Confronting any obstacle with faith and perseverance. Using any setback instead as an opportunity to turn it around and advance. He once said, “Without doubt, we are in the hands of God, but we must not sit there idly.” Blessed Bishop Giovanni Battista died on June 1st, 1905. He was proclaimed blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II on November 9, 1997.
These two holy men are great example for us today. Saint Justin…because we need to remember that sometimes we may have to keep searching for the Truth… and once we find it…(in the Church) it will take an even greater courage and determination to go out into this ever increasingly pagan world and spread Christ’s ‘Good News.’ And perhaps we may never be the kind of great theologian that Saint Justin was, but we can still be a witness of the Truth…a beacon of Christ’s Light in the world.
Also, as people who are living in an age when we have so many technological advances, we have so many opportunities to spread Christ’s message without too much effort... We should all be striving to do something for God. We should never sit idly by…thinking that the job we are being called to, will be filled by someone better suited… someone more wise… No, it may be that God wants you… exactly as you are, with just your amount of intellect to do a job that far out classes you… We just have to trust and submit ourselves to His Will, having faith that God will use us exactly as He wishes… trusting that He will provide the graces that we need…
Sometimes, we may be called to teach or to preach… and at other times, He may just use us as an example of how to handle the agony of suffering… or the pain of humiliation… We don’t know…Unfortunately, we may never know just what God will want from us… but our response to Him has to be the same…it has to be “Yes”… regardless of the circumstance…. regardless of the situation…We have to have Trust…We have to have Hope… We have to believe that God just may be calling us to something great… No, let me rephrase that, as Christians, we have to believe that God is calling us…each of us… to greatness. So, don’t waste this time sitting idly by.