Friday, December 13, 2013
Feast of Lucy, Martyr in Sicily
It's my annual Santa Lucia post!
As is usually the case, we don't have what we would consider accurate information regarding the life of Lucy. According to tradition, she was martyred in the year 304, which would mean that she was born in the late third century. She was born in Syracuse, in Sicily, to wealthy parents. Her father died when she was very young, and her mother, a Christian, raised her in the faith. Lucy had decided to dedicate herself to God at an early age, and she decided to dedicate herself to virginity and not to marry. Her mother didn't know about Lucy's plans and, as a good mother of that era, had arranged a marriage for her with a young man of Syracuse. Lucy's mother, Eutychia, had suffered from a hemorrhage for four years, and nothing the doctors did helped her. One day Eutychia and Lucy were in Catana, a town about fifty miles from Syracuse. They were attending Mass at the shrine of St. Agatha, when they heard the reading of the woman with a hemorrhage who was healed when she touched Jesus' garment. Lucy said to her mother, "If you believe this story from the gospel, and you believe that St. Agatha is with Christ, since she suffered in his name, I believe that you will be healed when you touch her tomb." After the service they went to the tomb and prayed. While they were prostrated in prayer Lucy fell asleep and had a dream in which she saw St. Agatha among a host of angels, beautifully dressed and bedecked with jewels. Agatha said to Lucy, "My sister Lucy, true virgin of God, why do you ask me for what you yourself could grant? Your holy faith has helped your mother: look! She is entirely healed through Christ; and even as this town is made famous by me through Christ's favor, so shall Syracuse be made famous by you, because you prepared yourself for Christ, in your pure virginity, as a pure habitation." Lucy woke up, trembling from her vision, and said to her mother, "You have been totally healed. Now, by the same one who healed you with prayers, I beg of you, please, don't ever arrange a marriage for me or expect me to have any children. I ask that the money you would have given me for my dowery be given to me to keep me in my chastity and be given to the poor. I will not marry; I belong to Christ." Her mother said, "You know that we are rich and that I have been a good steward of your father's property. I have even invested and increased his wealth. Why don't you wait until I die. Then you will inherit everything and can do with it as you will." But Lucy said, "Look, mother, you can't take the wealth with you, and whatever you give away at death for the Lord's sake is exactly because you can't take it with you. Why don't you just give it away now and receive God's blessing?" After the visit to Catana, Lucy was always talking her mother into giving away the family fortune. Well, the young man to whom Eutychia had betrothed Lucy, Pashasius, heard about this and was quite upset. He came to talk to Lucy and set her straight. Pashasius was a Pagan, and he tried to get Lucy to follow the local civil religion. This was during the era of the Diocletian Persecution, and it was very dangerous time to be a Christian. He wanted Lucy to sacrifice to the local gods; (St. Ælfric, who wrote a version of the story of St. Lucy, said that Pashasius wanted Lucy to sacrifice to devils!) but Lucy responded, "A pure offering is this, and acceptable to God, that one should visit widows, comfort exiles, and help orphan children. I have spent the past three years making these offerings to the Living God, and now I only want to offer myself to God, living as a virgin." This upset Pashasius, and the two of them argued for a while, until he, being a jerk, threatened her with a beating if she didn't be quiet. Lucy said, "The words of the Living God cannot be suppressed or put to silence." He responded, "What, are you God?" Lucy said, "I am the Almighty's handmaid and because of this I speak God's words, since he says in his gospel, 'It is not you who speak there, but the Holy Spirit speaks in you.'" Pashasius said, "Really! Does the Holy Spirit live in you?" Lucy said, "The Apostle Paul promised those who preserve their chastity that they will be God's temple and the habitation of the Holy Spirit." This made Pashasius so angry that he said, "I'm going to have you dragged down to the house of prostitution, where you will lose your virginity and the Holy Spirit will flee from you!" Lucy said, "You can pollute my body but it won't affect my soul because I am being forced against my will. If you were to lift my hand to your idol and make an offer against my will, I would still be guiltless in the eyes of the true God, because God judges according to the will and knows everything. If now, against my will, you cause me to be polluted, a double purity will be gloriously given to me. You cannot bend my will to your purpose; whatever you do to my body, that cannot happen to me." Pashasius was crazy with anger now, and, being a stupid jerk, he was determined to put her in the brothel. He called his friends and they tried to pick her up put couldn't move her. Now, according to the story, she was a not a large person, but when they tried to pick her up the Holy Spirit held her fast to the ground; she stood as firm as a mountain. Pashasius called over some sorcerers, hoping that they could use their magic to break her and the hold of the Holy Spirit, but they failed. He finally had a yoke of several oxen harnessed to her, but even the oxen were unable to move Lucy. He asked her, "Why can't a thousand men move you,
as small and weak as you are?" Lucy said, "Even if ten thousand men tried to move me, they would all hear the Holy Spirit saying, 'A thousand shall fall beside you and then a thousand at your right hand, but no evil will approach you.'" So now Pashasius, being the biggest jerk in all of Syracuse, had a pyre built around her, and they put pitch and oil on it and lit it to burn her to death. Lucy stood in the center of the fire and said, "The Lord has spoken to me through prayer and has promised me that this fire will have no power over me, and as a result all the faithful will lose any fear of torture." This drove him even crazier and so, proving that he was a jerk and that she was correct not to marry such an a**hole, he decided to kill her with his sword. Pashasius stabbed Lucy and as her bowels were spilled on the ground, she predicted that Diocletian and Maximian would be deposed, the persecutions would end, and the Church would know peace. So there! While she spoke, Pashasius was arrested and brought to Rome where he was eventually beheaded. The priests came and administered the holy sacrament to Lucy as she laid on the ground, and she passed to glory as they said, "amen."
St. Lucy was a popular saint in the Early Church because even though she was weak, small, and young, she was able to standup for what she believed and refused to bow to the pressures of society. She was willing to die rather than go against her faith. Her strength and faithfulness made her a model for those who could still remember the Diocletian persecutions, and she was a model for those who wanted to live lives of chastity. That is why we remember her today.