St. Justin, Martyr

Tomorrow (Saturday), the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Justin, Martyr. Although he was killed more than 1800 years ago, his words, life and death can speak to the people of today an important message.

In regards to Christian charity, Pope Benedict XVI in his 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, wrote in No. 22, “As the years went by and the Church spread further afield, the exercise of charity became established as one of her essential activities, along with the administration of the Sacraments and the proclamation of the word: love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the Sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word. A few references will suffice to demonstrate this. Justin Martyr († c. 155) in speaking of the Christians’ celebration of Sunday, also mentions their charitable activity, linked with the Eucharist as such. Those who are able make offerings in accordance with their means, each as he or she wishes; the bishop in turn makes use of these to support orphans, widows, the sick and those who for other reasons find themselves in need, such as prisoners and foreigners.”

St. Justin reminds us that what we are about right now — the Catholic Charities Appeal — is something as essential to the Church as the Sacraments and the proclamation of the Gospel. Charity is not some “extra.” It is something for which all Christians (and all human beings) have a responsibility. We cannot say we love our neighbors if we do nothing to help them.

The Church has come to recognize that elements of truth can exist outside of the Catholic Church. In a 1997 document from the Church’s International Theological Commission entitled “Christianity and The World Religions,” it notes (in Nos. 41-42), “The semina verbi, ‘seeds of the word,’ can be found outside the limits of the visible Church and specifically in the different religions; this motif is frequently combined with that of the light which enlightens all men and with that of the preparation for the Gospel (Ad Gentes 11, 15; Lumen Gentium 16, 17; Nostra Aetate, 2; Redemptoris missio, 56). The theology of the seeds of the word stems from St. Justin Martyr. Faced with the polytheism of the Greek world, Justin sees in philosophy an ally of Christianity since it has followed reason; now this reason is found in its totality only in Jesus Christ, the Logos [the Word of God] in person. Only Christians know the Logos in its entirety. But the whole human race has participated in this Logos. Hence from the beginning there have been those who have lived in accordance with the Logos, and in this sense there have been ‘Christians’ even though the knowledge they have had of the seminal Logos has only been partial. There is a great difference between the seed of something and the thing itself. But in any case the partial and seminal presence of the Logos is a gift and a Divine grace. The Logos is the power of these ‘seeds of truth.’”

We also have a responsibility to properly receive the Sacraments. St. Justin wrote in this regard, “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of Baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.”

Pope Francis, in his 2013 encyclical on faith, Lumen Fidei, in the very first paragraph, makes reference to this saint. “The pagan world, which hungered for light, had seen the growth of the cult of the sun god, Sol Invictus, invoked each day at sunrise. Yet though the sun was born anew each morning, it was clearly incapable of casting its light on all of human existence. The sun does not illumine all reality; its rays cannot penetrate to the shadow of death, the place where men’s eyes are closed to its light. ‘No one — St. Justin Martyr writes — has ever been ready to die for his faith in the sun.’ Conscious of the immense horizon which their faith opened before them, Christians invoked Jesus as the true sun ‘whose rays bestow life’ [from St. Clement of Alexandria]. To Martha, weeping for the death of her brother Lazarus, Jesus said: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ (Jn 11:40). Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets.”

As Christians, we are called by Christ to help people who feel that they are in darkness to know that they are not alone — that Christ is there with them. Christ is there with them directly in their prayer and through good people who accompany them in very difficult times. We ask Christ for the light we need to be able to effectively accompany these sisters and brothers of ours.

St. Justin himself discusses how an encounter with a believer helped him to come to Christ. “When he had spoken these and many other things, which there is no time for mentioning at present, he went away, bidding me to attend to them; and I have not seen him since. But straightway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me.” 

The believer had closed his dialogue with Justin with these words, “Pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom.”

Christ wishes to bestow this wisdom upon everyone — but we have to be open to receiving this wisdom and open to what it will demand of us. Let us ask St. Justin to intercede for us, so that we may receive this wisdom and live it.

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