Many Traditional Catholics know of St. Philomena, the martyr. But do we truly know and appreciate her story? Firstly, the name Philomena means “daughter of light” – a name which she certainly lived up to in her lifetime, and now in Heaven. She was the daughter of Greek royalty, and at a young age vowed her virginity to Christ. One day her parents were called to Rome to see Emperor Diocletian, who wanted to start a war on their island. As soon as he saw Philomena, he fell in love, and asked for her hand in marriage. Because of her vow she would not take his offer, and after many tries to win her over, Diocletian was enraged and threw her in prison. Many only think she was drowned with an anchor, but her martyrdom was much more painful than that. The following is taken from CatholicTradition.org:
“She was bound to a pillar, and like Christ before her, she was savagely scourged. Seeing that she was one gaping, agonizing wound, the Emperor had her brought back to the prison to die. Two bright Angels appeared and poured Heavenly balm on her wounds and she was cured. The Emperor was astonished. Because she still refused his blandishments, he was enraged and gave orders that an iron anchor should be attached to her neck and that she be thrown into the Tiber to drown. But Christ, once more to confound the tyrant, sent two more Angels to cut the cord of the anchor which fell to the bottom of the river and became embedded in the mud. Then the Angels brought her back to the bank without a single drop of water touching her garments. Several bystanders were converted. But Diocletian became more obstinate than ever, declared her a witch and ordered her pierced with arrows. Again Heaven saved her from the death planned for her. On hearing of this new miracle, the Emperor was so infuriated that he ordered the torture to be repeated until death came, but the arrows refused to leave the bow. So he had the arrows heated with flames from a furnace; again it was to no avail, for these last archers were slain by Heaven. More conversions occurred and the people began to show serious signs of disaffection towards the Emperor and even reverence for the Holy Faith. She was beheaded at last and ascended to glory in Heaven. It was 3 PM in the afternoon, of a Friday.”
Before we reflect on any life lessons that she has left us in her story, let us try to place ourselves in the shoes of this heroic saint. St. Philomena was only thirteen years old when she made the decision to sacrifice her life for the Faith. She was not on this earth long enough to have many life experiences and adventures, but was willing to give up everything for the Faith and her sacrifice of virginity. Would we be willing to make sure a sacrifice? With all our smart phones and time on social media, do we ever take the time to appreciate what she has done for us?
Imagine how she felt in the moment of her martyrdom. She calmly offered her life for Christ and the salvation of our souls, while she was shot with arrows, had an anchor tied to her neck, and was finally beheaded. Though she was young, she faced the pain bravely and won for herself the title of “martyr” for all eternity. It may not be comfortable for us to consider, but it is the reality of what many saints have done for us; in our day and age, it is easy to forget the courage and perseverance of the martyrs. Dear God, inspire us to always remember the martyrs and cherish the sacrifices they have offered for our wellbeing and salvation!
St. Philomena can inspire us in many ways, one of them being her innocence as a child saint. Even though she only lived a few years on this earth, she soaked in as much of God’s love as possible. This would later on strengthen her, to give her life for Him. We should also soak in as much of God’s love as we can, whether it be when we are at Mass, socializing with friends, or even taking a walk. We need to learn to see what life truly is when we go about our duties from day to day. The very ground we walk on every day was created from all eternity just for us in that moment. Every molecule that makes up the concrete that holds us up was created by God, with infinite love, so that we may get from place to place.
St. Paul of the Cross once said: “Let all creation help you to praise God. Give yourself the rest you need. When you are walking alone, listen to the sermon preached to you by the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the sky, the sun and the whole world. Notice how they preach to you a sermon full of love, of praise of God, and how they invite you to proclaim the greatness of the One who has given them being.”
Every tiny piece of life has been made up into a beautiful act of God’s love for us. At times we may feel alone or lost, but how can we be lost when everything around us was created lovingly by our Heavenly Father? St. Philomena knew of this reality, and learned of the goodness of God, but also had a detachment from all worldly things as well. Our surroundings may be very beautiful, but are only a foretaste of what is to come in Paradise. If God asks us to make a sacrifice here on earth (and it is probably not to be drowned by an anchor), we should rejoice at the opportunity to prove our love and gain merit which will last forever.
Another lesson we can take away from her story is her unshakable clarity and persevering purity. Saint Philomena didn’t have books of devotions she said privately, or worry about the future or the end of the world as we do now. She was Catholic, and simply stayed pure, no questions asked. There is no need to complicate the Faith: all we need to do is perfect the performance of our daily duty, and stand up for the Truth. St. Philomena’s purity is also something that should inspire us. Our Lady of Fatima said that the main sin that is bringing souls to hell in our times are sins of the flesh. Our world makes it far too easy to sin this way now, so let us pray fervently to St. Philomena that she keep us pure and thriving in the grace of God.
St. John Bosco once said: “Holy Purity, the queen of virtues – the angelic virtue – is a jewel so precious that those who possess it become like the angels of God in Heaven, even though clothed in mortal flesh.” Purity is so precious because it guards our hearts from lust, and helps us to see sacred mysteries more clearly. Let us especially pray for the grace of purity and innocence, so that we can preserve our souls in this tarnished world.
St. Philomena, thank you for the sacrifice of your life that you offered to God. Let your memory forever be in our minds so that we can follow bravely in your footsteps, and one day, reach eternal bliss in Heaven with your assistance. For it is in sacrifice that we gain, in humility that we grow, and in perseverance that we obtain our eternal reward.