The Church recalls the witness of St. Justin, one of the earliest martyrs. He was brutally killed in the year 165 AD, unwilling to offer worship to the emperor and gods of Rome. Fidelity to Christ was more important to him than even his own life.

Saint Justin was a man of prodigious intellectual gifts that he placed at the service of the Church’s mission. The Church, faced with the opposition of the Roman state, had to struggle to survive. Professing the Christian faith was considered to be treason, punishable by death. Further, Christians were cultural outsiders, the elites of Roman culture had their own gods and values, and to many of the Romans, Christian faith just seemed odd, if not unintelligible. Justin took it upon himself to make the case for the Christian faith, presenting reasoned arguments as to the “what and why” concerning the beliefs and practices of the Church.

This made Justin a dangerous man to those invested in Roman system of power and privilege. For those who opposed the Church, there was no god but Caesar and no way of life other than the Roman way, a way of life that valued wealth, pleasure, power, and honors above anything else.

We might not experience the Church as being dangerously subversive, but for Justin, the Church was considered to be a threat, and was dealt with as such. Christians were persecuted. Their property was seized. Their institutions were closed. Their worship was ridiculed. Bishops and priests were arrested. And men and women like Justin, who presented Christian beliefs as credible, and the Christian way of life as worthwhile, were considered public enemies.

The Church’s way of life necessitated risk and sacrifices, and because men and women like Justin were willing to take the risk and make the sacrifices, the Church not only survived, it flourished and grew.

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