February 16th is the feast day of a somewhat obscure Saint, which is odd as he figures prominently in a Letter of St. Paul.
In St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, the Apostle reveals that Onesimus, a slave of Philemon who escaped, possibly with stolen property of his master’s, has been with him for some time and has been of valuable service. Onesimus has also been baptized and as such is now a brother in Christ to Paul and Philemon, as the latter is also a Christian. However Paul is convinced that due to the Christian charity that Philemon has shown in the past, he will take back Onesimus and greet him as a brother, equal in dignity and will not punish Onesimus or re-enslave him.
And so Onesimus is sent back to Philemon by Paul, with this Letter as a sort of greeting and passage.
I’ve always been intrigued by this. Imagine you’re Onesimus. You’ve been a slave. There must have been a reason why you escaped. Was Philemon cruel? Or did you just have an instinctive aversion to being considered property of another? You just saw an opportunity to leave and took it? Anyway, the punishment for escaped slaves was most likely death. Probably painful and not quick if you’re also guilty of theft. And now your new friend, whom you’ve been serving and who has treated you like an equal, a person, is sending you back to your old master. With full confidence that Philemon’s Christianity is all that is standing between you and a painful termination.
Would you want to return?
I didn’t think so. Me neither.
But Onesimus did. He probably did not go willingly, but apparently his faith in the Gospel of Jesus that Paul preached was enough to convince him that it is the right thing to do. So Onesimus’ faith overcame his possible very strong natural lack of inclination to return.
I think for that reason St. Onesimus should be of interest to alcoholics and addicts. Not that he was one, but we all do not want to do the things that we have to. Our addictive personality may make this disinclination stronger in us than in most people. “Normal” people can overcome unwillingness seemingly by just going ahead and doing the thing. But we have to use our spiritual toolkit to convince ourselves to “get going” and do the thing. We have our daily meditations, slogans and other aids to get us to do things that other people just do.
St. Onesimus can be our aid in this. Although I don’t think he is the patron saint of anything, he should be the Patron Saint of People Who Really Do Not Want to Do the Things That They Really Have to Do. ( I have to find a shorter, catchier term. “Patron Saint for People Who need Courage?” Still rather long…)
Read more on Saint Onesimus at SQPN."The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics"