Saint Januarius was bishop of Benevento during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian in 305 AD. When Januarius visited two deacons and two priests in prison, he also was imprisoned. Then, they were all thrown to the beasts. When the beasts wouldn't attack them, they were beheaded.
This occurred during a most difficult time for Christians, when many were killed. But, only a few years later in 312 AD, Emperor Constantine had a religious experience following his victory at the battle of Melvian Bridge. In 313 AD, Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity throughout the Roman Empire and it shortly became the preferred religion of the empire. In the short period of eight years, Christians went from being aggressively persecuted to being the favorite of the emperor.
Today, Christians are being persecuted in many countries, especially Muslim countries. In these countries, Christians aren't free to practice their faith. In our country, Christians are sometimes excluded from the public square. In the recent memorial to 911 in New York, there were no Christian clerics included in the celebration. This was amazing when you consider the heroic role that many Christian clerics played during on September 11th, 2001. At the 911 memorial in Washington, the only Christian clerics who were invited were Episcopal ministers. Catholic and other Christian denominations were not included. This exclusion is not an accident. Often, we hear of various political and media figures speaking out against the Catholic Church. Recently, during a CNN interview of Rick Santorum, a Catholic candidate for President, the moderator severely criticized Mr. Santorum for his support of traditional marriage. In other countries, such as Canada, there are warning signs that soon proclaiming Catholic teaching in areas which aren't politically correct, such as opposing gay marriage, may soon be considered hate speech and cause for imprisonment.
For me, the message of today’s feast is that times do change. They can change for the better, as was the case going from Emperor Diocletion to Emperor Constantine. Or they can change for the worse we see occurring in the US, Canada and Europe. As Christians, we must always fight for our religious freedom including our freedom to follow our conscience in matters of faith.
We must never give up hope in God no matter what our spiritual circumstance may be. For, no circumstance is beyond God's power to turn to good and no person is too confused for God to use as His anointed. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St Paul tells us of our hoped-for eternal destiny: "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love Him".