Sermon: Constance and the Martyrs of Memphis

Many of the saints we celebrate seemed to have lived in lands far from here hundreds of years ago.  However, Constance, an Episcopal nun, and her companions that we celebrated today are known for their work in Memphis, Tennessee, during a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1878.

The epidemic in that year was the third in a decade, and by the time it reached its height, 30,000 people had fled the city, and some 20,000 remained.  Death tolls averaged 200 per day, and in the end, 5,000 died.  Constance and many others who worked alongside her succumbed to the disease because instead of fleeing with so many others, they remained and cared for the sick, dying, and many orphaned children.  The High Altar at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis is a memorial to Constance and her Companions and a reminder of their sacrifice.   

Until the COVID pandemic came rolling through, it didn’t seem like such events would ever come around again, but COVID showed us that there are still many out there willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of others. Even so, not everyone is in the position to do such great works, but our call to serve one another and to serve God is not always measured in extraordinary events. Quite often, it is the smaller day-to-day activities that have the most significant impact.  Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”  True.  You may never be called to die while serving others, but we are all called to serve in the small things performed in great love.

When I read at night, it’s almost always brain candy.  One that I completed a while back and that they are making the movies from is the Divergent series by Veronica Roth.  Towards the end of the final book, Tobias, one of the main characters, says, “There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.  But sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.” 

Those like Constance and her Companions, those Martyrs of Memphis that made the ultimate sacrifice, become our inspiration and help us make the smaller sacrifices of day-to-day living.  The types of sacrifices that allow us to set aside ourselves and love those around us.  Sometimes those sacrifices don’t seem like much; they may just be a part of our everyday lives—going to work and doing an excellent job so that we might provide for our families, volunteering for a few hours at places like Loaves and Fishes, or sending a few dollars to Episcopal Relief and Develop so that they can purchase mosquito nets to fight disease—but those small sacrifices add up.  In the words of Veronica Roth, those small sacrifices make up “the work of every day,” bringing all to a better life.

Look to Constance and her Companions as inspiration for the daily sacrifices you are called to make and realize that amid even the most difficult ones, our Lord will be with you; and in all these works, great and small, He is glorified. 

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