The Lombards, a barbarous idolatrous nation which swarmed out of Scandinavia and Pomerania, settled first in the counties now called Austria and Bavaria; and a few years after, about the middle of the sixth century, broke into the north of Italy. In their ravages about the year 597, they attempted to compel forty husbandmen, whom they had made captives, to eat meats which had been offered to idols. The faithful servants of Christ constantly refusing to comply, were all massacred. Such meats might, in some circumstances, have been eaten without sin, but not when this was exacted out of a motive of superstition. The same barbarians endeavored to oblige another company of captives to adore the head of a goat, which was their favorite idol, and about which they walked, singing, and bending their knees before it; but the Christians chose rather to die than purchase their lives by offending God. They are said to have been about four hundred in number. Saint Gregory the Great mentions, that these poor countrymen had prepared themselves for the glorious crown of martyrdom, by lives employed in the exercises of devotion and voluntary penance, and by patience in bearing afflictions; also, that they had the heroic courage to suffer joyfully the most cruel torments and death, rather than offend God by sin, because his love reigned in their hearts. “True love,” says Saint Peter Chrysologus, “makes a soul courageous and undaunted; it even finds nothing hard, nothing bitter, nothing grievous; it braves dangers, smiles at death, conquers all things.”
If we ask our own hearts, if we examine our lives by this test, whether we have yet begun to love God, we shall have reason to be confounded, and to tremble at our remissness and sloth. We suffer much for the world, and we count labor light, that we may attain to the gratification of our avarice, ambition, or other passion in its service, yet we have not fervor to undertake any thing to save our souls, or to crucify our passions. Here penance, watchfulness over ourselves, or the least restraint, seems intolerable. Let us begin sincerely to study to die to ourselves, to disengage our hearts from all inordinate love of creatures, to raise ourselves above the slavery of the senses, above the appetites of the flesh and all temporal interest; and in order to excite ourselves to love God with fervor, let us seriously consider what God, infinite in goodness and in all perfections, and whose love for us is eternal and immense, deserves at our hands; what the joys of heaven are, how much we ought to do for such a bliss, and what Christ has done to purchase it for us, and to testify the excess of his love; also what the martyrs have suffered for his sake, and to attain to the happiness of reigning eternally with him. Let us animate ourselves with their fervor: “Let us love Christ as they did,” said Saint Jerom to the virgin Eustochium, “and every thing that now appears difficult, will become easy to us.” To find this hidden treasure of divine love we must seek it earnestly; we must sell all things, that is, renounce in spirit all earthly objects; we must dig a deep foundation of sincere humility in the very centre of our nothingness, and must without ceasing beg this most precious of all gifts, crying out to God in the vehement desire of our hearts. Lord, when shall I love thee!