Friday, June 16, 2006
Onesimus was born in Phrygia and was a slave who robbed his master Philemon and ran away to Rome. In Rome he went to see the great apostle, St. Paul, who was a prisoner for his faith. Paul received Onesimus with the kindness and love of a good father. He helped the young man realize he had done wrong to steal. But more than that, he led Onesimus to believe in Jesus and baptized him.
After Onesimus became a Christian, Paul sent him back to his master. Philemon had earlier been converted by Paul and was Paul's friend. But Paul did not send the slave back alone and defenseless. He "armed" Onesimus with a short, powerful but beautiful letter that we know as the Epistle to Philemon. Paul hoped his letter would set everything right for his new friend, Onesimus.
Paul wrote to Philemon: "I plead with you for my own son, for Onesimus. I am sending him back to you. Welcome him as though he were my very heart." Paul asked Philemon to accept him "no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me".
That touching letter is in the New Testament of the Bible. Philemon accepted Paul's letter and Paul's advice. When Onesimus returned to his master, he was set free. Afterwards, he went back to Saint Paul and became his faithful helper.
Saint Paul made Onesimus a priest and then a bishop. Later, as Saint Jerome and other Fathers tell us, he became a fervent preacher of the Good News that had changed his life forever. He was cruelly tortured in Rome, for eighteen days, by a governor of that city, who became angry by his preaching of the Gospel. His legs were broken and he was then stoned to death. We celebrate his feast day on February 16th.