Greetings, folks, it's Andrew again from This Present Time. Today marks the halfway point of Lent. It's a good opportunity to reflect on our progress thus far in preparing and improving ourselves before Easter and to re-double our efforts in the second half. We hope this station church practice has been helpful and enjoyable; thanks for following along.
Today's station church is the Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano. Located in the famous Roman Forum (specifically, the Vespasian Forum or "Forum of Peace"), the basilica is situated right on the Via Sacra, the most important street of ancient Rome which ran from the Capitoline Hill to the Colosseum past many important government and religious buildings. Two such buildings were the Temple of Romulus -- dating from the 4th century but possibly the site of the much earlier Temple of Jupiter Stator which Romulus himself founded -- and the Bibliotheca Pacis, a 2nd-century library which housed important literary and historical works as well as artifacts from conquered Roman lands, including apparently pieces from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the early 5th century, these buildings were given by Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths who controlled Rome after the empire fell, to the Christians. Pope Felix IV combined the buildings and founded a basilica dedicated to Cosma and Damiano, or Cosmas and Damian, as they are known in English.
The entrance to the original Temple of Romulus on the Via Sacra, now the closed rear of the basilica
Born in Arabia but later living and working in Syria, Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers and doctors. They ministered to all, including the poorest of the poor, and never accepted any payment for their services, which earned them the nickname Αναργυροι, "the silver-less." They supposedly worked many healing miracles, most famously replacing a man's leg with the leg of another, according to tradition. Their charity and good work brought many to the Christian faith, yet it also drew them to the attention of the authorities. Under the persecutions of Diocletian in the late 3rd century, Cosmas and Damian (together with, according to some sources, their three younger brothers) were arrested, tortured, and beheaded. Invoked in the Litany of Saints and in the Roman Canon, they are honored today as the patrons of physicians and surgeons.
The Basilica of Cosmas and Damian became an important site for the Christians of the time, housing both a charity center for the poor and a house for those suffering from disease or injury. According to tradition, if a sick person slept over night in the basilica, he/she would be cured. Regardless of the legends, the Basilica of Cosmas and Damian was the first church to be founded in the Roman Forum, which would have been an important event for the Christians of the time. Though the faith had been legal for some two hundred years, such a moment would have marked a kind of final triumph over the pagan society which had so oppressed and persecuted them in their earliest days. The heart of ancient Rome, the center of its pagan and imperial worship, was now itself Christian.
Mass readings for today, we detect a consistent theme of turning to and believing the words of God. Too often, we take for granted the good things that have been given to us and fail to recognize the loving Father who gives them, asking instead for some sign before we truly believe. The Israelites were brought out of the land of Egypt, yet they "stiffened their necks" and turned away from God. Jesus casts out demons yet people question whether he is himself from the devil. As Christian believers, our religion was persecuted by the greatest empire in the history of the world for nearly 300 years, yet it survived. Psalm 95, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your words," might just as easily say, "If today you see his hand at work, do not turn away in unbelief!"
The hand of God is indeed at work all around us, and we are invited to assist the Lord in furthering and advancing this work. The Resurrection of Christ, that which we are preparing for in these 40 days, forever changed the world; as St. Augustine said, "We are an Easter people," and it is surely now more than ever that we must remember it and live like it. Jesus tells us in the Gospel, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." Let us, at this halfway point of the Lenten season, rededicate ourselves to gathering, to showing the world through the example of our lives that "the Kingdom of God has come upon you."