January 16 -- St. Marcellus
In the third century, Christianity was in a supreme battle with the forces of paganism. In hopes of destroying Christianity once and for all, Emperor Diocletian began the era of the greatest persecutions of the Church. Fortunately, it was the last.
In 304, St. Marcellus was elected pope. Seeing the problems of the Church, he vigorously set up a program to reorganize the fledgling Church. Rome remained the seat of Catholicism. He divided it into twenty five districts or parishes with a priest in charge of each . Now the faithful could be instructed and given the sacraments in an orderly manner. Church government was now taking a form that would last throughout the centuries. With the Edict of Nantes, the Church could finally arise out of the catacombs.
In addition to the enormous restructuring endeavors which St. Marcellus undertook, he now had to deal with many new converts and with those who had apostatized during the persecutions and wanted now to be reconciled with the Church. Having the perfect balance between mercy and justice, St. Marcellus imposed the customary discipline on these penitents.
This caused great strife in the streets of Rome . St. Marcellus was called before the Emperor Maxentius and ordered to make an offering to the gods. Refusing the emperor imposed an atrocious punishment on St. Marcellus, condemning him to work as a slave on the public highways and to care for animals in a stable. Here he died. His remains were rescued by some of the faithful and buried in the catacombs.
The exile and punishment of St. Marcellus is one of the first recorded examples of the secular government interfering with the Church. It is horrendous to think that the Vicar of Christ was subjected to such ignominy. Such implies the triumph of the material over the spiritual and is truly an attack on God Himself. Should we not be outraged!
Let us ask Our Lady to be vigilant about how this account is being repeated in our day and to fight against it with every fiber of our being.