St. Bibiana, Virgin and Martyr
In the fourth century, there lived at Rome a virgin celebrated among the Christians for her beauty and her modesty, named Bibiana. Flavian, her father, was, in the reign of the godless Emperor Julian, dispossessed of all his honors and banished from his country on account of his faith. He ended his life in misery, a true martyr for Christ’s sake. Dafrosa, her mother, was for the same reason, after her husband’s banishment, locked up in her own house, that she might starve. Bibiana and Demetria, the two daughters, shared their mother’s imprisonment. But as neither the mother nor her daughters became emaciated by the hunger they, suffered, and, on the contrary, appeared more vigorous than before, and could not be frightened into denying Christ, the mother, by the order of the governor Apronianus, was banished from the country and then beheaded. Bibiana and Demetria were, at the same time, deprived of all their possessions, in the hope that poverty would cause them to abandon their faith. But the Christian heroines regarded it as little as those to whom St. Paul writes: “You have received the loss of your possessions joyfully, because you know that you have to expect greater goods in heaven.” They said cheerfully: “It is better to lose the temporal goods, which we cannot possess long, than the eternal.” The Governor, after a time, called both of them, and promised that all that had been taken from them would be restored, if they would only worship the gods; but if they refused, he threatened them with imprisonment, a cruel martyrdom and the most painful death.
The Christian virgins were as unmoved by the flatteries and promises of the tyrant, as by his menaces. “We worship the true God,” said Bibiana, “and are ready to die rather than to stain our souls by sacrificing to the gods.” Demetria spoke in the same manner, but hardly had the words left her lips, when she sank down and expired. Bibiana was given into the charge of a wicked and cunning woman, named Rufina, who was to cause her to abandon her faith; for, the heathens knew, by experience, that none more easily denied Christ than those who had lost their purity. Rufina, the wicked woman, left nothing untried. She represented the pleasures of the world to Bibiana in such a manner, that she thought the virgin would surely drink the poison thus put to her lips; but all her wiles were of no effect. Although the maiden was kept like a prisoner by Rufina and could not escape, yet she remained unharmed by the fire of temptation. Calling ceaselessly to God for aid and strength, she was so graciously sustained, that she not only manifested not the least pleasure at Rufina’s wicked behavior, but was more and more strengthened in virtue. Rufina, enraged at this, maltreated the innocent virgin by beating her most violently. All that her rage suggested was employed to gain her end; but the virgin, upheld by the Almighty, remained true to her resolution, rather to lose her life by the most cruel martyrdom, than to stain her purity.
When, at length, Rufina saw to her great chagrin that her endeavors were entirely useless, she informed the tyrant Apronianus of her failure, and persuaded him immediately to sentence Bibiana to death. The tyrant, without delay, ordered her to be tied to a column, and beaten to death. The order was executed, and Bibiana repeatedly declared that she regarded it as a high honor to be thought worthy to die for Christ’s sake. With her eyes raised to heaven, she stood motionless during her martyrdom, until her whole body was one mass of bloody wounds, and she gave her unspotted soul to the keeping of her heavenly Bridegroom. According to the tyrant’s command, her holy body was left on the public road, to serve as a prey to the dogs; but it remained untouched, until a pious priest carried it secretly away, and buried it beside the grave of her mother and sister. At present there stands a beautiful church on the spot, built in honor of the holy martyr, and in commemoration of the sufferings and death of her mother and sister.
I. The danger in which St. Bibiana found herself, was great beyond expression, and the more so, because it lasted for a long time. Yet the chaste virgin committed no sin, because she was in danger without her consent, and could not save herself by flight. She did all in her power to guard herself against sinning, and God gave her His especial aid. It must ever afford great consolation to those who against their will, are exposed to great danger, and who are unable to escape, that God will surely assist them, when, like St. Bibiana, they do all in their power to help themselves. Such help, however, cannot reasonably be expected by those who imprudently cast themselves into danger of sin, or who voluntarily remain in it. “Divine assistance will surely be given us, if we do not neglect to do all that is in our power,” says St. James of Nisibis. Many persons, however, will not do this, but clearly show that it is not their earnest wish to avoid sin, since they do not employ the necessary means. And for the same reason, they are in danger of going to eternal ruin. Why? Take the following words well to heart. To gain heaven, nothing is so necessary as a truly sorrowful confession.
It is, however, necessary for such a confession, that, besides contrition, we make the earnest resolution not only to avoid sin, but also every opportunity that may lead to it. When this resolution does not exist, confession is invalid and sacrilegious. We obtain by it not only no pardon for our sins, but we commit another and a great sin. If we go to holy communion after such a confession, we become again guilty of a great sin, and by continuing thus to confess and partake of holy communion, perhaps for months or years, we desecrate the holy Sacraments, and cast ourselves still deeper into hell. Oh! that all whom it concerns may take this terrible but true article of faith to heart, especially those who do not endeavor to free their houses from all occasions to sin; who keep up a sinful friendship; who do not shun the house where they have so often offended the Lord; as also those who voluntarily remain in a place where they are almost daily in imminent danger of sin. Such people perhaps go frequently to confession and not seldom to holy communion, but unworthily; because they have not made, in their confession, the earnest resolution to shun the occasion of sin. Their repentance is not true, but useless and hypocritical. “To avoid all occasion of sin, is the sign of true repentance,” writes St. Bernard. And St. Isidore says: ” It belongs to true repentance, to avoid all opportunity to sin.” Again he says: “He that does not shun all opportunity of evil, does not entirely free himself from sin.”
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Bar