The Blood of a Blessed Martyr – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Feast of St. Alban

Today we mark the feast of St. Alban, the first martyr of Britain. In the third century, Christians were subject to various persecutions in the Roman Empire, and the story goes that the then-pagan Alban, living in Roman Britain, hosted a Christian priest in his home who was fleeing persecution. Impressed by the priest’s devotion to prayer, Alban joined him, and converted. When it came to light he was hiding the fugitive priest, Alban donned the priest’s robes and went to death for him. He refused to partake in a pagan votive offering, saying, “I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things.” For this, he was beheaded on a hilltop at the town that now bears his name.

I must admit, I cannot speak solely of Alban today. Partially, it’s because this early Church martyr calls to mind the Church’s general age of martyrdom, when the experience of persecution necessitated developing a theological understanding of the concept. But it’s more personal than that. You may know that we brothers take initial vows for a  few years before taking life vows. Today is the anniversary of my initial vows. And earlier this week, the anniversary of my life vows, was the feast of Bernard Mizeki, another martyr. By happenstance, or something more, I cannot encounter these martyrs without thinking more broadly of their witness to the vocation of the Church, my own included.

Witness. That’s what “martyr” means, literally. There are many ways to witness, in the Church’s sense of that word. But it was those whose blood was shed, whose bodies were broken, who were elevated as the witnesses, the martyrs. You may recall the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain murders his brother in a fit of jealous rage. God describes Abel’s blood as crying out from the ground, and the ground cursing Cain. In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer speaks of a great cloud of witnesses, encouraging us in faith to resist sin to the point of shedding our blood, for we have come “to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Not a curse, but salvation.

I am moved by the realization that this ancient martyr, Alban, and this much more recent martyr, Bernard Mizeki, shed the same blood. I’m not speaking of family lineage, or ethnic heritage, or national identity; I am speaking of the blood of the Church, the body of Christ, commingled and sanctified in the holy cup. If martyrdom is a witness, it is a thoroughly sacramental one; the spilling of holy blood is very much an outward sign of inward grace. For in this libation, this poured out offering, we recognize our own offering within us, our own sacrifice. That same blood courses within us. Each cell, forged in the lattice depths of our very bones, rushing through a vast and intricate network, connecting every last corner of our bodies, this same blood participates in our own offering, day by day.

What has your offering been so far? Has it been good, and just, and holy? Then step forward, and join it in communion with the holy offering of the whole Church, in this and every age. Has it come up short, snagged and hampered by the wound of sin? Then step forward, and renew the consecration of your own life with the ever-living body and blood of Christ. Has it been distracted, confused, bored, or something else altogether? Then step forward, and behold, life and truth are ready to meet you once again in the sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Alban was martyred on a hill. Bede writes that this hill was “beautiful, as was fitting, and of most pleasing appearance, adorned, or rather clothed, everywhere with flowers of many colors…a place altogether worthy from of old, by reason of its native beauty, to be consecrated by the blood of a blessed martyr.” The martyrs’ sacrifice, the life of the Church, the body and blood of Christ, is a thing of beauty, a thing before you, a thing within you. Step forward. Be consecrated, that by your offering, you too may consecrate the world.

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