Today is the Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian. If one wanders the area near the Forum in Rome, there is a very ancient church dedicated to these twin martyrs-physicians by trade. Over the altar is a beautiful mosaic depicting the brothers on either side of Peter and Paul, flanking the central focus–Christ the Redeemer. In the middle of this past century, Thomas Merton, in his famous autobiography the Seven Story Mountain, describes his own conversion as he wandered the streets of Rome. In this ancient church, and others he visited, he saw the powerful iconic images of the Saints transformed by the Risen Christ. Confronted by this powerful message, Merton began his own journey to a new life in Christ…a life which has inspired others on the journey.
In our first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes, we encounter the beautiful poem which chronicles the joys and sorrows of life. Despite times of sadness and destruction or loss and separation, God’s infinite promise is a new and transformed life.
In today’s gospel, Jesus asks his disciples the seminal question "Who do you say I am." That was the same question that Cosmas and Damian had to answer. It is also the same question that Thomas Merton and each of us must answer. After the enlightened response of Peter, "You are the anointed one of God", Jesus went on to explain that the "Son of Man must suffer" for he knew he would die on the Cross. Jesus is a true radical as he explains that the path to God involves suffering and death. Cosmas and Damian shared in that suffering-first by fire-then beheaded. And, Thomas Merton also experienced suffering during his lifetime, a life which ended abruptly by electrocution.
Like the saints of the Early Church-Cosmas and Damian-or the everyday saints of our own age-we are each invited to a new life in Christ. So, begin anew today…take time to answer Jesus’ most personal question, "Who do you say I am?"
Blessings on the journey!
Angela Howell is a retreatant and volunteer at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California.