Just Words? – Br. James Koester

Luke 12: 4-12
Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon and Martyr, 304

This is an unusual week. Three days in a row, in the calendar, we commemorate some of the earliest martyr saints of the Church: Fabian[1], Agnes[2], Cecilia[3], and now Vincent, all martyred in some of the earliest waves of persecution against the Church.

It’s easy, from a distance of about 1800 years to look back at these figures and dismiss them as irrelevant to faithful Christian living in the early decades of this century. Our challenges living as Christians in an age of pandemic, are very different than theirs. Yet, by their feasts, especially since they happen three days in a row, they invite us to consider, not simply their deaths, but their lives, and the invitation they make to us today.

Vincent was a deacon of Spain, and the assistant of the saintly bishop, Valerius[4]. Both of them were caught up in the persecution of early Christians ordered by the Emperor. Already, Valerius was an old man, but more significantly, tradition tells is that he had a serious speech impediment, and Vincent would often preach for him. The story goes that when they were called before the governor, Vincent said to the bishop, Father, if you order me, I will speak. To which Valerius responded, Son, I committed you to dispense the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the faith which we defend. With those words, Vincent holding nothing back, proceeded to offer a defence of the Christian faith boldly and with exuberance.

In an age when words are cheap, and are, after all, just words, it’s tempting for us to go back on them; to declare that we did not mean what we said; to say the opposite to what we said yesterday. It no longer shocks us to hear stories changed, words twisted, and what was true one day, to be replaced by an alternative truth the next. That is why Vincent’s story is so powerful today. What had been true a week before, a month before, a year before, was still true, as he stood before the governor who had the power of life and death over him. For Vincent, his life was worth nothing, if the words he had spoken in the past, were not also true as he stood before the governor.

For Vincent, words were not simply words, whose meaning and intent could be changed, even to save his own life. So, there he stood, boldly proclaiming his faith in Christ, not fearing those who kill the body,[5] and instead doing what he had always done, acknowledging Jesus before others.[6]

For me it is not the manner of Vincent’s death that has power, but the abiding truth of his life; a truth that did not change whether he stood encouraging the faithful, or before the governor, defending his life.

What was true for Vincent one day, was equally true on another. May that also be true for us, who pray, makes these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.[7]

[1] Fabian, Bishop of Rome, Martyr, AD 250, feast day 20 January

[2] Agnes of Rome, Martyr, AD 304, feast day 21 January

[3] Cecelia of Rome, Martyr, c. AD 230, feast day 21 January (Cecelia is kept with Agnes on this day in the Episcopal Church, her traditional feast day is 22 November.)

[4] Valerius, Bishop of Saragossa, AD 315, feast day 28 January

[5] Luke 12: 5

[6] Luke 12: 8

[7] Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 461

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  1. Sam TallmN on February 8, 2021 at 17:24

    Such a keen observation in making these commemorations powerful for our time. Thank you.

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