In the year 304, Africa was under the rule of the pagan emperor Diocletian. Under this emperor, persecution of Christians was brutal. The place where the persecutions were the worst was in a city named Abitina. Diocletian issued an order that all Christians, under penalty of death, had to deliver up Holy Scriptures to be burned. Saturninus was a priest of Abitina and every Sunday he celebrated Mass in the house of Octavius Felix. It was on one such Sunday that a group of soldiers came and seized 49 persons, including women and children. Among the 49 were Saturninus, his four children, a senator named Dativus, and Mary, a young virgin consecrated to the Lord. Prior to their arrest, the bishop of Abitina had complied with the magistrates and brought them the sacred Scriptures to be consumed by fire. This act of sacrilege was followed by a hailstorm, which ravaged the whole country, and a violent rainstorm that extinguished the fire. When Saturninus and his companions were brought before their judges, however, they so zealously professed Jesus that even their tormentors were impressed with their faith.
Unfortunately, though, they were not freed, but instead were shackled and sent to Carthage, the residence of the proconsul. On the way, they rejoiced in their sufferings for Christ and sung hymns of praise and thanksgiving. Upon their arrival, some were put on the rack, their bodies torn with iron hooks. Other forms of torture were inflicted on the rest. The proconsul focused on the youngest child of Saturninus and tried to get him to reject his faith. Young Hilarianus, however, filled with the Holy Spirit, was not afraid and announced, “I am a Christian; I have been at the collect [gathering to worship], and it was of my own voluntary choice, without any compulsion.”
The proconsul then threatened him by telling him that he would cut off his nose and ears. The child replied, “You may do it; but I am a Christian.” With this, the proconsul ordered the child and all the others to prison. They all ended their lives under the hardships of their imprisonment except for two, who on February 11 died from their wounds.
There is much to be learned from the early martyrs. So many take for granted the Lord’s Day and fail to take seriously our duty to assemble and worship God. It is a mortal sin, but many do not listen to the authority of the Church. Yet these martyrs gave up their very lives rather than dismiss their Sunday obligation. God said to keep holy the Sabbath day. One early Church father said, “Without this religious observance, a man cannot be a Christian.” Let us remember these individuals that died so that we might be able to continue to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
Father in heaven, forgive us for our neglect and for the times that we offend you. Help us to be beacons of light to those in darkness. We pray that the blinders may be removed from the eyes of those who fail to gather together on Sundays for Mass. Forgive them for their ignorance, Father, and help us to know how to help them see the error of their ways in a charitable manner. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
Seven Holy Founders of the Order of Servites (1233), Religious, Founders
St. Eulalia (304), Virgin, Martyr