One of my favorite saints is not as famous as most others. In fact, relatively few people have heard of him and, seemingly, even less can pronounce his name. All of that, of course, does not matter. In fact, I think that his relative obscurity fits in quite nicely with the story of his brief life, as well as his courageous death. The name of this young saint is Tarcisius, and his story is a powerful lesson to all of us.
We do not have many details regarding his life, but we do know that he lived in the third century, and that he was a faithful Christian when being a Christian was a dangerous thing to be since Emperor Valerian was persecuting Christians as cruelly as possible. Tarcisius was an acolyte, an altar server, and Christians were forced to meet secretly in an effort to stay alive and practice their faith.
The custom of taking the Eucharist to the imprisoned and dying had become a very dangerous job, but Tarcisius volunteered one day despite his youth. Although the priest hesitated to accept this courageous request at first, the young man’s obvious faith and zeal convinced him to allow Tarcisius to undertake the sacred mission.
As Tarcisius was on his way to his destination, however, a group of pagan friends stopped him, urging him to accompany them. Realizing that the boy’s refusal was somehow related to whatever he held so tightly clasped close to his heart, they became suspicious and began to pull and hit him in an effort to discover what the big treasure was.
As their efforts became more intense and angry, they began to throw stones and hit him even harder. Despite their vicious efforts, however, Tarcisius never opened his hands, and never abandoned the sacred Treasure he held close to his heart.
Tarcisius was carried dying back to his fellow Christians and, although dead by the time he arrived, he was still clutching the little cloth in which the Eucharist was wrapped. He was buried in the catacombs of St. Callitxtus, and his feast day, at least for now, has been assigned to August 15 in the Roman Martyrology. Many believe that this feast will someday be changed to another date.
Perhaps the most beautiful oral tradition of this story is that The Blessed Sacrament was not found on his body; neither in his hands, nor in his clothing. It is thus held that the consecrated host which he defended with his life had become flesh of his flesh, forming with his body a single, immaculate host as an offering to God Almighty.
We may admire this young boy’s courage and love for Christ, but perhaps brush this story off as the product of a violent, crazy time when being a Christian was a crime with a death penalty. However, do we not each face attacks, temptations, pressure, and abuse of various kinds as we journey through an increasingly anti-Christian society? Are we not assaulted on a daily basis by those who mock and disrespect what we believe and hold dear? Is it possible that, sometimes, we wonder if just opening our hands, dropping what we believe, and letting go, even for a while, is not just a whole lot easier than being bashed 24/7?
Keeping our hands together
Jesus knows what we face every day in our often feeble efforts to follow Him, but He is always there to remind us that truly believing and loving Him means that we take the hits, often fall, but always get up with our hands still together, be it in prayer or in a firm resolution to “keep the faith” and prove our mettle. Keeping our hands together really means that we pray often and stand firm in the face of this world’s assaults on what we hold dear.
Being a Christian is really a four step process in this world. First, we must step up and take Christ into our hands and hearts, willing to carry His message to others. Second, we must strive to keep our hands together, both in prayer and to protect that message from the daily assaults of this world. Third, we must be willing to get up when we fall, and we will often fall, during these efforts. Lastly, we must keep our eyes on the prize of eternal salvation despite all of these struggles.
Keep it about Christ
One might ask how one can hope to do all of the above and maintain that relative obscurity mentioned above, since bringing Christ to others seems quite the opposite of keeping a low profile. Being obscure can mean to be inconspicuous, unimportant, insignificant, and anonymous. It can also mean being difficult to understand, an enigma, puzzle, or a vague mystery.
The truth is that following Christ in this world may often seem like a puzzle, but we have a much better chance of solving that puzzle if we keep it about Christ, and not about us.
Take a look at most sins and you will see a slip into the error of me, meaning what I want, what I need, what I feel. Take a look at Jesus, Mary, and saints like Bernadette and Therese the Little Flower, however, and you will see the treasure of humility, of dissolving oneself into the Will of God just as the consecrated host seemingly dissolved into the body of Tarcisius.
So, let us ask God Almighty to help us keep our hands together in our journey through this world and our effort to bring Christ, first to ourselves and, just as importantly, to others who need Him so much. Let us dissolve ourselves into this sacred mission, for the popularity, fame, and approval of this world mean nothing in the face of that mission.