Friday, December 13, 2013

Bearing Light on the Light-Bearer's Night

St. Lucy before her earthly judge, showing the power
and eloquence of one who cares only for the
judgment of God.

Today is the commemoration of St. Lucy, whose name in Latin (Lucia) is from the word for light.

Lucy's story, from Sicily during the early fourth century Great Persecution under the Emperor Diocletian, is both inspiring and very painful reading. It is painful because of the way humans can treat each other in their lust for control and supremacy, and inspiring because through it all Christ is exalted as the highest good, the deepest love. Make no mistake: loyalty to Christ will put us at enmity with the world.

Lucy wanted to follow Christ rather than play out the often sordid, mechanistic charade of marriage in the Roman Empire's nobility. She was deeply moved by the witness of St. Agatha (also a virgin martyr, also from Sicily) some decades earlier, and she wanted to consecrate her life to prayer and works of mercy. Her family would not consent to this; Lucy's opposition to their plans led, ultimately, to her martyrdom.

At the core of her witness is her name: "Light." Lucy was gripped by the knowledge, the experience that following Christ means walking in the light of truth, of mercy, of conviction. She knew that there could be no compromises about this in the end. Her conflict was, in part, one of loyalties. As with many of the early Virgin Martyrs of Christianity, she raised her voice in opposition to the bonds of familial piety--which was ultimately connected by the Roman legal mind in a direct chain of loyalties back to the Emperor himself--and asserted a final loyalty to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords: Christ Jesus.

As a parish priest, I often see peoples' eyes glaze over a bit when we talk about some of the ancient martyrs. This is partly because they are spoken of as museum pieces rather than real human beings. But, they were real enough. They were complicated, sometimes uncertain, and always prone to the same temptations as we are. But they are remembered because they chose Light, rather than darkness. They called upon God and were witnesses to the power of a kind of Life that is bigger even than biological life: the Life of God. That same choice is ours, today, now.

There are so many martyrs being made around the world at this moment that one could rightly call this the "New Age of the Martyrs." But, we need to remember that martyrdom means being a witness (in this case, to death); and such witnessing comes in all sorts of types and forms.

For example: I know of people who have been witnesses to the power of God by taking serious the light they are being offered in Christ--seriously enough to confront the tremendous damage they observed and absorbed at an earlier stage in life and to seek deep healing of this damage. Such work is costly and laborious. But, when such people begin to show Christ's light--rather than the darkness and pain of our broken and sinful world--they become powerful witnesses to the ongoing presence and transforming character of the Christian life. By glorifying God and telling about the source of their healing, they join St. Lucy in a life of good works and light-bearing.

There are many light-bearers in the Church this evening; people who would not consider themselves for one moment "martyrs" or "confessors" of the Faith, but who are doing just that. I suppose it is best to let them continue on in the sense that they are "only trying to follow Jesus," because that is the best message they can give: but, God bless them. They are the Lucys we all need in the dark night of this world's trials and competing loyalties.

Collect for St. Lucy

Loving God, for the salvation of all you gave Jesus Christ as light to a world in darkness: Illumine us, with your daughter Lucy, with the light of Christ, that by the merits of his passion we may be led to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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