St. Callinicus (feast day July 29) may be the perfect saint for our times, even though he lived in Asia Minor and died in the year 250. You see, he was born into a Christian home at a time when most of his neighbors were pagan.
Imagine an Eastern world with no monasticism, no icons, and no Roman capital of Constantinople as yet. There was no New Testament collected, canonized, and bound in leather. All of that was still to come. That was the world into which St. Callinicus was born. Though St. John the Apostle and his successors had set Christianity in Asia Minor on a proper footing, good news travelled slowly in those days. Most of Callinicus’s neighbors had still never heard of Jesus Christ. Callinicus couldn’t bear to think of them losing their immortal souls.
That right there is the reason he has something to say to our times. Perhaps you’re a cradle Catholic and you’ve fought to keep the faith alive in your family. Day after day the world around you gets more and more pagan. What are you thinking?
- Oh my poor pagan neighbors!
- Oh, poor me! These jerks are ruining everything!
- Ask me after I’ve had my coffee.
- I am quitting the internet and moving to Portugal.
Callinicus was the first choice all the way. He believed what Christianity had taught him — that he should love his neighbor as himself. So he set about preaching the Good News of salvation. He went from city to town telling anyone who would listen who Jesus Christ was. Since a pure love of others was his motivation, his efforts bore much fruit and there were many conversions.
[Callinicus] believed what Christianity had taught him.
Suddenly good news was traveling fast, too fast for those in power. The government grew alarmed at the “contagion of Christianity.” A certain Gov. Sacerdonus from the city of Ancyra (now Ankara, the capital of Turkey) ordered Callinicus to burn incense to idols.
My guess is that Sacerdonus didn’t care that much about pleasing the idols themselves. He cared about wanting everybody to think the same way — the pagan way. Nothing says “sin wins” like a public act of idol worship. It demonstrates that your privately held beliefs are opposed to the general opinion of society. If you don’t do it, they said, we will simply torture you until you die.
At this, Callinicus answered, “To me all pain for my God is most welcome as bread is to a hungry man.” He testified that God would give him strength to bear any suffering and then would grant him eternal life.
The governor tried everything — beatings with ox tongs which is an iron ring with long handles that bulls wear that makes it possible to lead them around by the nose. Then it was iron hooks that tore into Callinicus’ flesh. Finally he ordered Callinicus forced marched all the way to Gangra, his place of execution, some 82 miles away. His shoes for the journey were sandals fitted with nails to pierce his feet.
To me all pain for my God is most welcome as bread is to a hungry man.
The saint endured it all with heavenly patience. I wonder if the thought crossed his mind: What do people see in paganism? It’s nasty.
As the soldiers drove him along with whips, the trip began to wear on them. Next time the governor wants somebody marched across central Turkey in July, they grumbled, let him do it. It’s gotta be a hundred degrees and there’s no water in sight! Meanwhile not a cross word from Callinicus, which puzzled them. There is definitely something special about him. The soldiers begged him to pray to his God for water.
Callinicus told them to go to hell. Just kidding. He did as they asked. Here was a guy who really did love his enemies. Love had been at the basis of his mission to convert as many pagans as he could and now his love had been tried and passed the ultimate test. Callinicus prayed for water for his enemies and miraculously a fresh cool spring gushed forth out of a stone. The soldiers then wished to set Callinicus free but … could not bring themselves to suffer a martyr’s fate in return.
[Callinicus] … was a guy who really did love his enemies.
When the party arrived at the city of Gangra the soldiers threw Callinicus into a fiery furnace. His last words were: “I give thanks to you O Heavenly Father for making me worthy of this hour in which I die for Your Name.” When the embers died down, his body was found unburnt and was reverently buried.
Today when our New Testament sits on a shelf collecting dust, when we hide our Christianity so that our neighbors won’t think we’re fanatics, when so many in our culture have never heard of Jesus Christ (except as a swear word), when “nothing” is the fastest growing “religious affiliation,” when those who govern want to coerce Christians to make public acts of conformity to vice, when the god people worship is not some stone statue but their own reflection in the mirror, we need to invoke the aid of St. Callinicus to help us love our enemies.
We live in a mission field. There is so much good to be done, so much culture to build, so many souls to save. Let’s pray for our enemies and ask for the grace to love them with as pure a love as that of St. Callinicus. If we do not, what will become of them?