Saints Cosmas and Damian and the Christians of the Middle East

Today is the feast of SS Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers who were born in what is now Turkey, practised medicine or surgery in Roman Syria and were martyred for their faith in about 287. They illustrate the way in which the liturgy often focuses mind and heart on issues of the day. The media may ignore the extermination of Christianity in the Middle East, the profoundly difficult moral issues faced by members of the medical profession, the relationship between religion and the State, but the Church cannot. She is right there in the midst of it all, and her popes have articulated both her concerns and her challenges. Pope after pope has drawn attention to the way in which Christians in the Middle East have suffered persecution; pope after pope has argued for the development of a medical ethics that respects our humanity as well as our science; pope after pope has challenged the attempts of the State to limit human freedom. One of the problems with all this, however, is our ability to listen selectively. As with Fr Antonio Spadaro’s recent interview with Pope Francis, so with much else. Our fondness for the soundbite wrenched from context means that we don’t always get the message right. We hear what we want to hear, and no more.

Let us ask the prayers of SS Cosmas and Damian — for Syria; for the medical profession; for Christians being driven out of their homes in the Middle East; but, above all, for the grace of understanding. So many of our problems stem from misunderstanding, but healing the wounds of sin and division is an essential part of the Church’s mission, as much today as in the third century.