The story of Alban is worth recounting. Alban was a Roman soldier in the early 3rd century, stationed in Verulamium, about 20 miles north of London. Although he was a pagan, he agreed to give shelter to a priest who was fleeing persecution. Moved by observing the priest at prayer, he asked the priest questions about his faith and was converted.
The Roman authorities received a report that Alban was sheltering the priest. When soldiers were sent to Alban’s home, he greeted them at the door disguised in the cloak of the priest, and willingly gave himself up to be arrested. He was brought before the military governor, who soon discovered the ruse. The governor commanded Alban to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods, and when Alban refused, had him tortured and put to death that same day. Tradition has maintained that the year was 303 or 304, but recent scholarship has placed Alban’s martyrdom a century earlier, in the year 209, during the persecutions ordered by the Emperor Septimius Severus.
Certainly the sacrifice of Alban is worth remembering today. We recall with awe his unwavering commitment to Christ, a commitment that prompted him to give himself up to torture and death in place of a Christian priest. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). We stand in awe of the unflinching witness of the martyrs and pray that, if that day should ever come to us, we would be equally steadfast and fearless in the profession of our faith in Jesus Christ.
But today I want to highlight as well the witness of the anonymous Christian priest. It was his quiet example and the genuineness of his prayers that inspired Alban to embrace the Christian way. Like Alban, he never abandoned his commitment to Christ, even though his life was constantly in danger.
It seems unlikely that any of us will ever be called to suffer torture and death because of our Christian faith, but it is very well possible that our quiet, steady, unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ may inspire in others a curiosity and a desire to understand and embrace this faith. It is entirely possible that the way we live, the way we speak, the way we serve, the way we love and honor one another and those whom we meet, may inspire someone we hardly know to seek God by exploring the Christian way. We should be mindful, then, day by day and hour by hour, of our unspoken witness – the way we live our lives – and its power to change and inspire those around us. May God give us grace to live as these two men lived – fearlessly, humbly, and gracefully – so that our lives, by showing forth God’s beauty and truth, may draw others to new life in Christ.
Today, we give thanks to God for one of the great saints and martyrs of the Church, St. Alban. He is one of my favorite saints because for much of my ministry as a parish priest I worked in the English Diocese of St. Albans, which is in the county of Hertfordshire, some 25 miles north of London. The city of St. Albans, in Roman times, was called Verulamium, but its name was changed in honor of the man who, like his Lord, gave his up his life for another.