✠ In the name of Jesus ✠
St. Lucia was born in Sicily in the year 283 A.D. to rich parents, members of the nobility. However, her father died when she was still very small, and so she and her mother Eutychia were left alone. Eutychia taught and raised her in the faith, and Lucia was a very devout and pious young woman. In fact even though they still had much wealth, she desired to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor. Her mother, though, did not permit her to do this.
But then something occurred that changed her mother’s mind. Eutychia had been suffering for several years from a hemorrhage, a chronic flow of blood. Lucia prayed for her mother’s healing. Evidently, her prayer was answered. Her mother was restored to health; the hemorrhage stopped. In response to this wonderful gift of healing from God, Eutychia allowed Lucia to have her wish and to distribute the vast majority of her share of the family wealth to the poor.
There was just one problem. Lucia had been betrothed to a deceitful young man who was not a Christian. He loved Lucia’s riches more than her. When she gave away her wealth, he was furious. His greediness moved him to get revenge. He went to the governor of Sicily and exposed the fact to him that Lucia was a Christian. This was during the year 303 when Christianity was still illegal and Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the church was taking place. All that someone had to do was denounce a person publicly to the authorities, and that person would be arrested. If they didn’t deny or recant their faith by cursing Christ and offering incense to Caesar, then they could be killed.
Lucia did not recant or deny her faith in Christ even under this threat. As a result she was tortured, her eyes were put out, and she was executed, perhaps having been burned at the stake. Her martyr’s death immediately made her famous in Sicily, and the story of her life and death, with some embellishments, lives on to this day.
Particularly in Sweden, Lucia is remembered on December 13th by having one of the daughters of the house dress in a white robe with a crown of lighted candles and go singing from room to room early in the morning while it is still dark to awaken the other family members and to offer them cakes of saffron bread. There are several reasons for this tradition. First of all, Lucia is said to have once brought bread to needy people who were living in a cave. This gift also reminds us of Lucia’s faith that Jesus is the Bread of Life.
The other aspects of this tradition are also important. The white robe is a reminder of the holiness of the saints who have died in Christ, and indeed of all those buried with Christ in baptism. It is written of Christians in the book of Revelation, “These are they who come out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” Jesus Christ. St. Lucia’s holiness arose not from her own goodness or her virginity but from the cleansing forgiveness of Christ.
The crown of candles is also significant for a couple of reasons. First of all, it indicates that even when Lucia no longer had her eyes, she still had the light of Christ to walk by. She could yet “see” by faith, far better than any of her persecutors could ever see. Though physically blind, she had better vision than any unbeliever. For she was enlightened with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as we say in the catechism. Furthermore, the fact that these candles are worn as a crown is a reminder of the crown of glory that all believers shall inherit through Christ in heaven. Though her life in this world ended in darkness and death, her eternal existence is one of light and life, even as it is for all the faithful. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”
Jesus entered our world of darkness by literally becoming one of us. He was born at midnight in the cold that He might warm us with the light of His presence. It is fitting that Jesus’ birth is celebrated on December 25th when the days are just beginning to grow lighter again. For He is the Light who wins out over the powers of darkness. Though Jesus suffered on the cross under a dark shroud as the sacrifice for our sin, on the third day He came forth from the gloom of death in resurrection light. He is the Sun of righteousness who has risen with healing in His wings, as we heard this past Sunday, and through faith in Him, Romans 8 says, we too are conquerors, victors over death and the devil.
St. Lucia bore witness to that fact in her life and in her death. In fact the word “martyr” literally means “witness.” In giving away much of her goods and wealth to help the poor, she bore witness to the love of Christ, who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich. She bore witness to a belief in God as the Creator who can and will provide for all of our daily needs. And in death she bore witness to God as the Recreator, who is more powerful than death. She testified that she loved the Lord and His salvation even more than life itself in this world. Like Abraham, she was looking for a better country, a heavenly one. She knew that the only way to have life in the world to come is to lay down your life in the world that is.
So it is also for you, especially in this Advent tide as you set your hearts on the coming of the Lord. You may not be called to be a martyr, but you are given to testify to Christ in word and deed and to take up your cross and follow Him. Jesus said, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Baptized into Christ, you are given to live the pattern of His life–humility before glory, death before resurrection, crucifying your old Adam that Christ may be pre-eminent and that His life may show forth in and through you.
This life of repentance and faith is not easy. It is truly a narrow road on which you are called to run. But along this road, Hebrews says, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses–Abraham and Joseph and Moses, Gideon and David and Samuel, prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs like Lucia. And above all, you are upheld by Him who laid this path and ran it for you, Jesus. Consider Him, Hebrews says, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Your road will end up where Christ’s ended up, for you are in Him. What is now only a candle in the darkness will soon be the dawning of the everlasting Day of resurrection at Jesus’ return. Let that joy set before you give you endurance in the faith.
✠ In the name of Jesus ✠