Feast Day: April 26th | Pope, Bishop of Rome, Martyr | Imagery: Pallium, Papal Tiara, Book, Beard | Patronage: Papacy, Rome, Priests
If we peruse the most ancient lists of the Popes, we find in the third place, after Peter and Linus, a man named Cletus. Now, some lists include a Pope Anacletus as well but Sts. Irenaeus, Augustine, and Optatus (as well as the historian Eusebius) indicate that these are simply two names for the same man. The Church in her official list of the Popes in the “Annuario Pontificio” takes this position, as was underscored by Pope St. John XXIII in 1960 when he merged the feast-day of St. Anacletus on July 13th into that of St Cletus on April 26th). Probably “Cletus” is simply the shorter, and more Christian, version of “Anacletus”. Though Cletus was born and died in Rome, his name is Greek in its roots, meaning “one who has been called” [Cletus] or “one who has been called back/from” [Anacletus]. The Greek verb “kaléō”, as you could guess even from its linguistic descendants in English, means “to call/recall”, and is related to another biblically-charged noun “kleos”, translated “glory”, meaning “what others hear about you”.
We know only the barest facts of St. Cletus’ life. He became a disciple of St. Peter in Rome along with St. Linus. Linus would become St. Peter’s successor as the second Bishop of Rome with Cletus becoming our third Holy Father when Linus was martyred around 76/79 A.D. St. Cletus would also be martyred, probably under the Emperor Domition arond 88/91 A.D. These were truly Golden Years for the papacy and the Church with 28 of the first 31 popes being martyred and 48 of the first 50 Popes acknowledged as canonized saints!
What captivated each of these men to take up the charge of Christ with knowing they would follow their Lord to the cross?! The only other detail that is mentioned again and again about Pope St. Cletus is that he ordained a number of men priests for the city of Rome (possibly 25, by some records). How many of these men also died? What compelled them to give their lives to that sacred ordination, most likely an oblation to the point of death? It was nothing less than the marvelous, utterly real, truth of Christ’s Resurrection! Cletus heard the Gospel, the kerygma, from St. Peter himself. Do you wish you could be similarly captivated by the natural audacity, and supernatural eloquence, of this fisherman-turned-apostle? Do you think you would could be convicted, and called, like Cletus, if you heard St. Peter’s preaching for yourself?!
May I recommend a reread of Acts chapter 2: “God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. … God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today. … So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” [Acts 2:22-24, 32-33, 36]
Can you hear the man who himself denied Christ utter those words? The man whom Jesus still called to “feed my lambs”?
Recall the similar proclamation in St. Peter’s first letter: “For Christ also sufferedonce for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in whichhe went and proclaimedto the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” [1 Peter 3:18-22]
Christ crucified by me, by you. Yet the messiah was prophesied to suffer and be scorned. And sin and death cannot bind Him! … nor those who clasp His cross and be plunged, baptized, into His death. For Jesus is alive, and glorious, and wants to welcome me, and you, into His Eternal Kingdom!
The Messiah murdered. Miraculously alive, marvelously merciful. He already died for me! In baptism, I have already died with Him. Can I choose Him again today?
– Fr. Dominic, on this past Easter Sunday, celebrated his 2000th Holy Mass. Every one of them should have, could have, been a recommitment to his priestly consecration, a renewal of his union with Christ’s sacrificial offering to the Heavenly Father. Sadly, contritely, many times he forgot. Did those first popes and priests of Rome forget?