by the Rev. Ann Urinoski
This Sunday’s gospel passage is a tough one: swords, family members turning against each other in their own homes, and the charge to take up the cross. When the news tells of violent acts and divisive politics, the opening verses of today’s gospel passage offer no solace – at least not at first glance. Coincidentally, this Sunday’s gospel passage is the same passage appointed for today’s lesser feast – The Feast of St. Alban.
On June 22, we observe the Feast of St. Alban, the first ever recorded Christian martyr who died under persecution from the Roman emperor in either the early third or fourth century. Alban was a soldier and originally a pagan. He agreed to shelter a Christian priest, who was fleeing under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletius or Severus, depending on the exact date. What’s important is that Alban was so moved by conversations he had with this priest that he converted to Christianity on the spot! Then, Alban disguised himself as the priest to help the priest get away. Alban’s disguise led to his own arrest, and he was sentenced to death. When the truth came out, he was given the opportunity to be spared from death by renouncing his newfound faith; instead, Alban stood true. His unwavering devotion to his faith so inspired the executioner that he too converted, refusing to execute Alban. When the priest heard what had happened to Alban, he came to the court to turn himself in, in the hope of saving Alban. Unfortunately, all three were executed near the site of what is now St. Alban’s Cathedral in Hertfordshire, England.
When looking at this Sunday’s gospel from Matthew through the context of Alban’s life, it disarms the passage. Christ is not encouraging us toward a violent resolution; Christ is calling us to stay true to our beliefs when surrounded by a culture that does not always align easily with them. Christ is calling us to live a life focused more on his teachings and the promises in our baptismal covenant than what’s trending on Twitter.
In one of his NOOMA videos, Rob Bell cites how it’s very clear from the Gospels that retreating into solitude and silence was a regular part of Christ’s spiritual life. Today, in a culture where we pride ourselves on busy-ness and productivity, stillness is hard to come by. Stillness is a counterculture move. Answering a call to make time to be still is one way to show that we are putting Christ’s call above our desire to fit into the culture around us. Stillness creates a space in our busy lives, where we create room for the Holy Spirit to rush in, shake things up, and fill our hearts with love.
You know what else we can learn from the story of St. Alban? That we never know when our zeal, our passion for our faith, and our bold commitment to the gospel will inspire the hearts of others we meet.