Friday, June 13, 2014

St. Peregrinus: Martyr and Pilgrim

     Over the past two millenia the Church has seen an endless flood of inspiring Saints.  Most of these heroes of The Faith are not officially recognized, but thousands of them are commemorated with a feast day (in most cases, the date of the saint’s death, which is to say the anniversary of when he or she joined God in Heaven).  The major commemoration today is for St. Anthony of Padua [here], one of the great Saints and a Doctor of the Church. But it is also the feast of St. Augustine of Huy, one of the Vietnamese Martyrs, of whom most of us westerners know far too little (the bio of the saint [here] on tells us that somewhere between 130,000 and 300,000 Catholics have been martyred in Vietnam over the past two centuries, both under the imperial government of the nineteenth century and the more recent communist regime, and often by horrific means: St. Augustine of Huy was literally sawed into pieces while still alive).  There are also saints about whom little more than the name has survived, such as the Irish St. Damhnade and the African Saints Fortunatus and Lucian.
     One of the lesser-known saints commemorated today is St. Peregrinus [bio here], whose actual name was Cetteus.  We are warned that his biography is largely unverifiable, but it seems believable enough.  He was bishop of the Italian city of Amiternum in the 6th century.  There was a feud between two of the invading Lombards, one of whom was threatened with death.  The bishop successfully pleaded to save his life, for which reason the other, assuming the bishop was simply taking his rival's side, had him thrown into a river with a large stone tied around his neck.  Cetteus was called "Peregrinus" (which means "pilgrim" or "traveler") by the fishermen who discovered his body, who knew he was a bishop by his vestments, but did not know his name.
     Several things stand out from the story of St. Peregrinus.  One, of course, is that Christ's followers would "be hated by all" (Matthew 10:22), even for doing nothing more than trying to spread peace. We don't need to look back to the early centuries of the Church to see the truth in that. We also see, in the Lombard chieftain whose imagination could not conceive of any motives higher than his own ambitions, the truth of St. Paul's assertion that "The wisdom of this world is folly with God" (1 Corinthians 3:19). The Saint's adopted name also reminds that, as St. Paul tells us (Phil. 3:20), our true citizenship is not here, but in heaven.  St. Augustine adds that "We are but travelers [peregrini] on a journey without yet a fixed abode . . ."
     Peregrini is sometimes translated as "pilgrims", because we are travelers on our way to a Holy Place (in our case, we hope, the Holiest of Places).  Let us ask St. Peregrinus to pray for us on our earthly journey, so that we might enjoy with him eternity in the Presence of Our Lord.