‘…Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia and all your Saints…’ You may recognise St Lucy as being named by the priest during prayer at the preparation of the Eucharist at mass. She is one of the only eight women to be mentioned in the Roman Canon. But who is ‘St Lucy’? What is her ‘legend’? And what can her example of faith teach us today?
The meaning of the name Lucy/Lucia is rooted in the same Latin word for light, lux; so many traditions associate St Lucy with being a bearer of light in the darkness of winter. In many parts of the world, her feast day falls during winter, on December 13, and once it actually collided with the winter solstice. Therefore, her feast has now become a celebration festival of light.
The legend of St Lucy goes something like this (disclaimer: it is predominantly assumed as legend with some historically reliable aspects, as there is no early written record of her story). Lucy was born to a rich Father, and mother of noble Greek heritage (neither of whom were Christian) in Syracuse, 284AD, which was a time of great persecution for Christians. At a very young age Lucy’s father died and her mother fell ill with an unknown disease that caused her a lot of pain and could not be cured. Lucy fell in love with Christ although it is unknown where her Christianity stemmed from, but she was forced to keep it private, even from her own mother. She had a strong desire to live a chaste life, to remain a virgin, and to serve Christ’s poor. As Lucy grew older, her mother, who feared she was nearing the end, worried about the future of her daughter and arranged Lucy’s betrothal to a rich young pagan man. She hoped that she would live a fruitful life and avoid poverty and early death. However, she was unaware of the promises of virginity that Lucy had made to Christ, and Lucy, not wanting to disappoint her mother, agreed. And so, she was betrothed.
Over time Lucy grew unhappy with the betrothal and wanted to prove to her mother that Jesus was the only one she deemed worthy of her devotion and that he would take the best care of her. Lucy asked that her mother accompany her to the tomb of St Agatha where they prayed all day. Lucy prayed for the miraculous healing of her mother’s illness and that she may come to believe in Christ. After exhausting themselves through prayer, they fell asleep at the shrine, and Lucy had a vision of St Agatha who said that through the strength of Lucy’s faith, her mother had been cured. She awoke immediately with great excitement to tell her mother. She woke up her mother, who was now freed of all pain. She at once converted to Christianity and agreed to Lucy’s vow for celibacy and to serve Christ’s poor. St Lucy began to divide up the riches she had, so that she would be left with only what she needed, and the rest would go to the poor. Her mother requested she wait and leave it to them in her will. But Lucy protested and said it is only true charity when you give during your lifetime.
In outrage at Lucy giving away all her riches to the poor, the man to whom Lucy was betrothed went at once to the local governor Paschasius to announce her belief in Christianity. Paschasius, angered by this, ordered the guards to arrest her and bring her before him immediately. Soon she was brought in front of Paschasius where he offered her freedom should she denounce her Christian faith and worship his idols. Lucy refused saying that she would only sacrifice to Christ through her good works. This made Paschasius even angrier, so he sentenced her to work in a brothel, intending to subject her to public humiliation. To this St Lucy claimed that her soul would remain pure no matter what was done to her body physically. When the guards began to remove her from the presence of Paschasius, she became so full of the Holy Spirit that it was impossible for anything of this world to move her. Many guards came to join in trying to remove her, but she was too heavy. Paschasius even ordered a yoke of oxen to assist which also had no effect in moving her.
Now consumed by his anger, Paschasius sentenced Lucy to be publicly burnt at the stake. As the guards tried to light the wood, it would not light. No harm was able to come to St Lucy. So, she began to preach to the crowds who were turning up to her execution. Many were converting to Christianity in amazement at these public miracles. The guards in anger tortured her by gouging out her eyes so she could no longer see. Even through this she continued to pray to her saviour Jesus Christ. It was after this that Lucy was martyred when a dagger pierced her neck. She died in 304AD.
When her body was being prepared for burial, the people preparing her were astonished to find that both of her eyes had been completely restored, despite having been gouged out before her death.
What a woman! Lucy’s story spread so fast and far that through the voice of the people, her holiness was universally recognised – a saint by popular demand. Christians were inspired that she gave up her life to prove her belief in Jesus. Saint Lucy of Syracuse was named patron saint of blindness, representing both physical blindness and spiritual blindness. She is now commonly depicted holding a set of eyes to represent the blind, as well as a palm to represent victory over evil.
We do not receive God’s grace by seeing acts of faith with our eyes. Faith is elicited by the intellect but commanded by the will. God intervenes by planting his grace like a seed in our intellect. We must then take a blind leap through trusting that God is Truth, and this act of will then initiates the seed’s growth. But it is up to our ongoing free will, our choices and our actions, as to whether our faith will become wilted and fade away or become nourished and thrive. Faith is the virtue by which we are able to believe in all of the truths that God has revealed to us. Given to us as a gift by God, it cannot be earned and if not exercised, will be lost to us.
Have you ever looked at someone who has such an unbelievably strong faith, so beautiful, that you experienced feelings of jealousy? I know I am guilty of that. It is so easy to look at people and think that what we see is someone with a stronger faith than ourselves. But this defeats the purpose of the gift. It is not a competition. There are two means to developing a strong faith, faith through intellect and faith through will. God gives each one of us a unique grace with our own unique strengths in each area which is the true beauty of our authenticity as humans.
How the will responds to God determines the strength of the faith. This can be found through the will’s promptness, devotion, and confidence. The stronger the will responds to God, the more it is pushed towards assent*. St Lucy is a great saintly example of being strong in faith through a strong will. Her will was so strong and far pushed toward assent, moved by the grace she was given in such a way that when tested, nothing of this world could move her. She only had room for our God who is beyond this world. She also continued to profess the word of God after losing her sight. She no longer had vision of what her professing of faith was doing to the people but still persisted without hesitation.
The gift of faith when exercised can begin to perfect the intellect. A saintly example where faith has begun perfecting the intellect is in St Augustine. St Augustine was a fourth century philosopher who had such a strong faith through a strong intellect that his knowledge and works helped shape Western Christianity. He is now known to us as an early Catholic Doctor of the Church.
It is important to remember that no two people share the same journey to having a strong faith and we should encourage each other to exercise our gifts instead of fueling feelings of jealousy and greed over the beauty of another’s faith. After all, ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.’ (Hebrews 11:6).
*Assent: The complete commitment of the will to the belief that God is Truth.