Feb 5 – Memorial for St. Agatha, virgin and martyr
We have little reliable information about this martyr who has been honoured since ancient times, and whose name is included in the canon of the Mass. Young, beautiful and rich, Agatha (d.250) lived a life consecrated to God. When Decius announced the edicts against Christians, the magistrate Quinctianus tried to profit by Agatha’s sanctity; he planned to blackmail her into sex in exchange for not charging her. Handed over to a brothel, she refused to accept customers.
After rejecting Quinctianus’ advances, she was beaten, imprisoned, tortured, her breasts were crushed and cut off. She told the judge, “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?” One version has it that St. Peter healed her. She was then imprisoned again, then rolled on live coals; when she was near death, an earthquake struck. In the destruction that followed, a friend of the magistrate was crushed, and the magistrate fled. Agatha thanked God for an end to her pain, and died.
Legend says that carrying her veil in procession, taken from her tomb in Catania, has averted eruptions of Mount Etna. Her intercession is reported to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion in 1551.
– Patron Saint Index
“…as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith”
Today and tomorrow, the Church remembers St Agatha, St Paul Miki and companions – martyrs. At its heart, Catholic Christianity is very simple to grasp – Love God, love Him by loving others — live the faith, share the faith. And what can be a greater testimony of these fundamental precepts of our faith than by giving one’s life for them. All the martyrs of our Church, bar none, did just that. All paid the ultimate price of Catholic Christian discipleship – just like their Master did. And if that was not strong enough a point made, they chose to be martyrs – martyrdom did not choose them. It was a conscious act of free will and free choice and in that regard, they represent the ultimate sanctification of true discipleship. We are so very blessed to belong to the true Church that so highly honors, extols and venerates our martyrs. It is their blood that waters the seeds of faith of the Catholic church and in so doing, helped give and sustain its life. And will continue to do so.
All martyrs share one thing in common – they all died horrible, excruciating, humiliating and unjust deaths. That we will all die one day is a given. But if you were given a list of ways you could choose to leave this world, what would it be? By stoning, having liquid gold poured down your throat, drowning, being roasted alive, skinned alive, burnt at the stake, eaten by lions, crucified upside down, by having your breasts cut off, by lethal injection, getting shot in the head, sawn into half, crushed and flattened, thrown into a furnace, head chopped off, or body ripped into pieces upon a rack…? Sounds a little graphic and grisly? Guess what, all our martyrs suffered and died in one, or several of the ways, mentioned above. It is all too often that we do not remember how terrifying, painful and torturous the ways our martyrs died. But in remembering this aspect, we get to know perhaps, the tremendous courage, fortitude, faith and devotion to Christ it took for them to choose and to face their moments of martyrdom. No, martyrdom is not fun.
St Agatha, in like company with St Agnes, St Maria Goretti and St Lucy, died to defend her virginity, her purity, her virtue. St Maximillian Kolbe, when asked by our Blessed Mother to choose purity or martyrdom, chose both. He died to defend against injustice and as an act of compassion to a fellow innocent prisoner slated for execution. St John the Baptist died to defend the virtue of the sanctity of marriage by calling out the adultery of Herod. So many others have paid the ultimate price to defend the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden, social and political injustice, even heresy. In our world today, so many Christian virtues, values and principles have been come under attack by individualism and secularism. In this last year, we have seen mind-boggling examples of how truly selfish man can be when even putting on a mask to save lives is too big an affront to one’s individualism – “who cares that 400,000 people die so long as I don’t lose my individual freedom”. When virtues like honesty, integrity and honour become inconvenient and get in the way of ambition, power, privilege and comfort. When those extra millions, on top of the billions they already have, are more important than the needs of those to whom a couple of hundreds would put food on the table and a roof over their heads in the dead of winter. Worst of all, where God’s name is used in vain by false shepherds to lead millions to damnation and for what? For brand new 60-million-dollar private jets and countless Armani suits, deemed so essential for doing the work of spreading the Gospel. Mind-boggling!
In our world today, as it has always been since the beginning of Christianity, martyrs will continue to spill their blood. It is the price that continues to be needed to be paid to defend virtue, morality and values in a world that has never been able to accept them as anything more than an inconvenient truth. We are so blessed by God with the holy martyrs of the Catholic church.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father, help us. We live in a world so overwhelmed by sin and selfishness that all sense of all that is good, that is from You, is trampled upon, lost and forgotten. So many have paid the price and made the ultimate sacrifice at the altar of virtue.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the precious gifts of those You raised ready and willing to defend Your kingdom with their lives. Your true sons and daughters whose blood continues to bring life to our Church and our world. As it always has and always will.
Justus – what a powerful reflection. Thank you for sharing this. Hard to read, but necessary.