What the Tech World Can Learn from St. Philomena

Published: [2020-09-07 Mon]


Who is Saint Philomena?1

I have mentioned Saint Philomena a couple of times on this blog, once in comparison to St. IGNUcious. Another was in reference to the day on which Emacs 27.1 was released (her feast day).

However, mentioning St. Philomena in passing does her a disservice. She deserves an article of her own, perhaps several.

Saint Philomena is a young virgin and martyr venerated in the Catholic Church. She is more obscure than other saints. However, she is still, as the slogan goes, “powerful with God.”

The reason I want to focus on Saint Philomena is because she has pulled my heartstrings recently in a very special and personal way. Learning about her and adopting devotions to her have reinvigorated my spirit. She has reminded me that during this troubling sociopolitical time, there are more important things to ponder and true beauty to admire.

I encourage everyone to read Saint Philomena’s life’s story. The short version:

At age 13, Philomena’s father arranged her to marry Emperor Diocletian as part of a deal to preserve peace in her Greek state. Philomena had made a vow of virginity at age 11 (similar to the vows of celibacy that the religious make today), so she refused Diocletian’s marriage proposal. Refusing to take “no” for an answer, Diocletian imprisoned Philomena and ordered her flayed. She healed miraculously overnight. The next day, Diocletian tried to drown Philomena in the river, but she was miraculously saved. Then, Diocletian ordered arrows to be shot into her, but Philomena miraculously healed again. Diocletian tried again, but the arrows deflected and struck the archers. Finally, Diocletian beheaded Philomena. (Bear in mind that Philomena was a 13 year old girl when all this happened.)


I neither care for you as a lover, nor fear you as a tyrant.

– St. Philomena (to Emperor Diocletian)

Can you imagine being subjected to sexual advances and flaying on the same day? (Watch Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ for a graphic video demonstration of what flaying is.) Philomena experienced both when she was 13. She was very brave to follow through on her decision to keep faith.

All our struggles pale in comparison.

Sense of bigger picture

Philomena was a Greek princess. She could have lived a perfectly happy life of ease with Diocletian. However, she willingly traded that life for the bitter cup of torture and death. She did so because of the strength of her beliefs.

Why did she make such a sacrifice at such a high cost? What did she see?

To Philomena, her royal heritage meant nothing compared to her heritage and glory in Heaven as a Christian.

Where is our sense of the bigger picture? Is our technology really advancing forward?


I have said repeatedly that I believe the cardinal sin in the tech world is pride. Every person tries to “one-up” everybody else.

On the contrary, Philomena sacrificed her earthly royalty and humbly submitted herself to the Divine will. She died and was forgotten by history for a thousand years until her body was discovered again in the catacombs. She then worked miracles from the grave on anyone who asked for help.

Philomena lives a quiet life, even as a saint. In fact, her feast day was removed from most calendars in the 1960s. Nevertheless, she still humbly intercedes and protects.


Philomena took a pledge of virginity at age 11. She saw something more important than sex or marriage and decided to save herself, body and spirit, for Jesus in what the Catholic Church calls the Great Wedding Feast in Heaven.

The cord is a popular devotion to Philomena today. It is a simple devotion. The matter consists of a red and white cord tied around the waist. The cord symbolizes chastity and tying your trust to Philomena. Much like how Philomena saved herself as a gift to God, the cord allows you to “wrap” yourself as a gift (to God or a spouse). There are various prayers and indulgences associated with the cord.

Compare Philomena’s example of purity to the tech world, where people increasingly use sex appeal to grab attention.

You cannot read news today without a suggestive image assailing your eyes. Hardcore pornography is rampant on the Internet (especially while everyone is behind locked doors during these troubling times), and many people fight temptation every day.

Furthermore, people who peddle pornography have no shame2 about what they do:

Q: In as far as end product, sharing that you work on adult sites may not be the same as working at a local web agency. Is there a stigma attached to telling friends, family, and acquaintances you work on adult sites? Is there any hesitance in telling people you work on adult sites?

A: I’m very proud to work on these products, those close to me are aware and fascinated by it. It’s always an amazing source of conversation, jokes and is genuinely interesting.

(Saint Philomena, pray for us!)


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. – Arthur C. Clarke

When was the last time you were surprised with technology that was truly novel in the sense that it seemed magical?

In recent years, computer technology has become less creative and more methodical. Consumer phones look and act more or less the same. Websites look and act more or less the same. There is a status quo, and people follow trends like fashions.

At some point, we lost that sense of beauty and novelty in technology. People started to stare into their cold glass phone monitors and stopped admiring the people, world, and technology around them.

We have created virtual prisons for our minds.

On the contrary, images of Philomena are pictures of the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. If you stare into her eyes, she stares into your soul. And these are just images of the actual person.

The cord is a very simple object that when blessed has sacramental value. Her little chaplet looks like a single-decade rosary. However, it has 13 beads instead of the standard 10. (Try finding a prayer chain with 13 beads!) Both are unique and novel instruments.

Stories about Philomena straddle the realm of fantasy: princesses, Roman persecution, miracles, and “Daughter of light.” Stories about miracles attributed to Philomena are equally fantastic (and church authorities have officially investigated a few of them): miraculous healings and children being saved from dangerous situations.

Everything about Philomena is beautiful: images, devotions, the stories she tells, and the ways she renders miracles. As tech people we can learn a lot from her good taste.


If I sound like I am describing a close friend, it is because I am. To me, Saint Philomena is a very good friend and a powerful protector. I am very glad I have met her, and I think there is a lot her example can teach the tech world, as well as the rest of the world.


The prayer of the cord:

O Saint Philomena, virgin and martyr, pray for us
So that through your powerful intercession
We may receive the purity of spirit and heart
Which leads to the perfect love of God.




For high resolution images, see catholictradition.org


At the moment I am writing this, that link is safe for work. It is an interview with a developer who works for a popular pornography website. Most of the interview is technical, so if you are curious about how massive amounts of data are sent across the Internet, then go ahead and read the whole thing. Sadly, the moral questions are relegated to the end as an afterthought.