Feast Day: June 26th | Patronage: brothers, soldiers, various cities in Italy, men in prayer | Iconography: praying together, martyred together, they are dressed as soldiers (boots, spears, armor, swords, cloaks), and shown to be martyrs (being beheaded, holding palm-branch)
John and Paul were brothers who lived around Rome during the 300s. They were both Roman soldiers and were blessed to grow up, and serve, during the reign of Constantine when peace was restored around the empire (after decades of infighting and political turmoil) and their Christian faith was now allowed to be publicly practiced around the realm. It must have been an exciting time to be alive and a wondrous thing to see giant basilicas being built after centuries of Christian worship being hidden (even if Christian charity, and witness/martyrdom, had been manifest all the more during those centuries of persecution).
Constantine held these brothers in high esteem, both as excellent soldiers and virtuous men, for they were entrusted to protect his daughter Constantia. The Church, in her hagiagrophy, also has remembered the prayerfulness of these brothers, often recalling them praying together in their house on the Caelian hill. As it turned out, their courage and devotion would soon be put to the test. Upon the death of Constantine’s son and heir, a new emperor came to the throne, Julian, named “the apostate” for the horrible reason that he tired to undo his own Christian baptism with a sordid ritual of bull’s blood, and then proceeded to attempt to stamp out the Christian faith around the empire. Knowing the valor and quality of John and Paul, he called them back to serve in his own military. The brothers, knowing this would now require them to offer sacrifice to Jupiter, refused to follow Julian into apostasy, and that emperor, angry at their fealty to God over himself, but lacking the courage to confront his soldiers himself, dispatched a minion to behead them in their home (where they were found kneeling in prayer.)
So many lessons could be learned from these men! I consider how, though given tremendous riches by Constantine (including that affluent villa), in their final days they didn’t scheme how to maintain those possessions but hustled around the city giving it all away (indeed, their magnificent home would itself become a magnificent basilica in the years to come!) I am struck as well by the fact that they did not defend themselves, though certainly they could have put up a fight, and morally would have been more than justified in doing so. And I especially hold in mind those sturdy men kneeling in prayer awaiting a crash upon their door. How infrequently do we kneel in our own homes? How infrequently do I kneel with other men in prayer?
Earlier this month after my cousin’s wedding, her husband asked if before the pictures, and the signing of the marriage certificate, even before the wedding party had processed out of the church that we all kneel down and pray the rosary together. Not only that, but he personally asked his dad and hers, and his godfather and hers, to each lead one of the mysteries (the new husband took the final decade himself). Everyone was moved to see this new couple beginning their married life in prayer, and especially to have each of those men leading the entire congregation in the rosary. As a priest, I get to lead prayer all the time, but even with brother priests, and often with friends and family, our prayer together is somewhat rote, not that vulnerable and “risky”.
Why do I hesitate to be real in opening up in prayer together, man-to-man, brother-to-brother? Why do I find it easy to go on a bike-ride with other guys, and sweat and work and struggle and banter with them, but forget to start with a prayer, or forget to ask for their prayers for me? Why does it stick out to us when we hear of Dcn. Rob leading a men’s bible-study on Wednesday mornings, or a group of dads joining together to hold each other accountable, or the dozen men who I pray morning prayer with over zoom on weekdays, or that we have four priests and a bishop living together here at Cathedral? Do men need prayer less than women? Are Christian fathers unchallenged in their vocation, or is that the kind of vocation best done solo? Are priests better off on their own? John and Paul became saints by praying together, it seems likely that most all the rest of us will only be able to follow Jesus with a similar level of devotion, and friendship.
– Fr. Dominic is going to take another step in building priestly-brotherhood by inviting the local priests over for the fourth of July, not only to have a cookout and watch the fireworks together, but to pray together and be real with each other, and the Lord.