October 20th on the Gregorian Calendar is a memorial of a martyr of the fourth century, the Great Martyr St. Artemius. This is someone from so many centuries ago, who has something to say to us today.
He may not enjoy a great popularity, so far as I know there are no churches dedicated to him in the United States, nor are there many who do carry his name, usually rendered Artym. None-the-less, he is a person for our times.
What does his life say to us? Well, here is a person of prestige and power. He had a high profile military/political position in Egypt. It was there that he did something about which each of us would do well to stop and reflect upon.
He placed his position, reputation and very life on the line by standing up, speaking out in the defense of two people suffering from injustice and government brutality. As the saying goes “rather than remaining safe and silent”, he stood up in defense of others. He did not “play it safe”. He refused to be what the monk/writer Thomas Merton called “guilty bystanders”.
There is a lot for us to think about here. First of all, there is the major crisis that is tearing the Catholic Church apart. Criminal abuses took place while members of the hierarchy stood silently by and used cover-ups and payoffs to “protect the good name of the Church’. These church leaders became accomplices in criminal behavior. Silent, guilty bystanders can always find an excuse to avoid standing up for the truth.
Something like this can happen in our lives also. Was there ever a time in your life when you sat silent instead of speaking out in the face of an injustice? Often people sit in fear. This happens to priests. Often a priest worries about his position. Will the bishop be upset? Will I lose my position? How will this affect Sunday collections? Often the dark shadow of the chancery office will cause a priest to sit in silence.
In the Decree on the Church we learn of the obligation of the laity to speak up:
“The laity have the right to receive in abundance the help of the spiritual goods of the Church… they should disclose their needs and desires with liberty-indeed, they are sometimes obliged to manifest their opinion on those things which pertain to the good of the Church and do this with truth and courage.” (Constitution of the Church #37)
There are serious spiritual consequences in hiding in a safe silence and false security in the face of evil. The soul descends into a fearful isolation shut off from the truth that “sets us free”. Standing up and speaking out for what is right and just opens us to the transfiguring presence of Christ in our lives.
Originally published on October 19th, 2003