In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In some ways, St. Lucy is like St. Patrick: there are a lot of celebrations that take place around the world, while the actual details surrounding the saint’s life are hard to state definitively. For example, it is not at all clear that St. Patrick actually drove a bunch of snakes out of Ireland! Though I am sure he would never countenance such an abomination as green beer. Even so, from probably the sixth century, Lucy’s birthday of December 13 has been celebrated around the world with various traditions, from her home country of Italy, to Scandinavia, England, Greece, and the Philippines. She is one of the eight women named in the Roman Canon of the Mass, showing how popular and widely known she is.
The traditional story of Lucy’s life matches many of the themes of that category of saint called “virgin-martyr.” It says that she was a firm believer in Christ from a very early age. She was promised as a wife to a pagan in Syracuse, Sicily in the very early fourth century. She convinced her mother (whom tradition says was miraculously healed) to give to the poor her dowry price. This, apparently, did not please her fiance, who then turned her in to the authorities for being a Christian. They tried to force her into prostitution, but the legend says that when they came to get her, they couldn’t move her even with a team of oxen. So they piled wood around her where she stood, in order to burn her, but the wood wouldn’t burn. So they finally put out her eyes and killed her with swords. Another legend says that she refused to be betrothed to anyone but Christ, so she put out her own eyes. Both of those legends have led to artwork with Lucy holding two eyes on a golden platter. The conclusion of the story is that when they went to bury her, her eyes were miraculously restored. So she’s been considered the patron saint of the blind.
Now, how much of that—if any—happened in actual history, it’s impossible to say. It does seem clear that she was actually martyred during the persecution of Diocletian in 303-304. But here’s the thing about these sorts of traditions and legends, at their best: they remind us not so much who the individual Christian actually was, as they remind us who we are in Christ. Lucy, or Lucia as she is sometimes called, both mean “light” in Latin. And she bore witness with her life that there was nothing in this world—not money, not marriage, not an easy or comfortable death—that was more significant than the Name into which she was baptized: Jesus Christ, her savior. What were eyes to her, since Christ is light? What was death to her, if Christ is life? What was money to her, if Christ had become poor for her sake, and with joy purchased her as His own dear treasure? What was marriage, if Christ was her beloved Bridegroom, who had given Himself up for her and the whole Church, to present the Church as a holy, pure, and splendid Bride before Himself without spot or blemish? Paul expresses this to the Corinthians: I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God. I betrothed you to one husband, to present a pure virgin to Christ. This is true of all Christians, married or single. One Bride,pure and holy, though not with her own purity and holiness. The people of God have often willingly prostituted themselves to the idols of each age. But Christ was conceived in the womb of a virgin, in order to cleanse all husbands, all wives, all virgins, all martyrs. The Light of the world has come into the world, and He says, You are Lucia. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Whether you are called to martyrdom or to the every-day life of a husband, wife, child, Christian, bearing one another’s burdens in love, those are the good works you are called to do. People may not remember your name, as they do Lucy’s. But, in Christ, you are light in the darkness, bearing witness to the Christ who has betrothed you to Himself, giving you His life and love in exchange for the dull glitter of everything this world calls important.
And on that day, your holiness, like Lucy’s, will be seen: Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women [that is, with the promiscuous idols of this present, evil age], for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless (Revelation 14:1-5). God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before Him, and He has made it so by His death and resurrection, by writing His own Name and the Name of His Father upon us in the baptismal water.
Until that last Day, may Christ our Bridegroom sustain us all, and preserve us faithful as He preserved Lucy, to bear witness to a purity and joy unknown in a world that only wants to destroy every good gift of God. And then, finally, like the ten wise virgins in Jesus’ parable, we will welcome Him with eager joy.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/13/16