Today is the feast of St. Agatha of Sicily, virgin martyr. Little is known about St. Agatha except that she was a young Christian woman, devoted to Christ. She was arrested and martyred during the persecution of the Emperor Decius in 251. She is one of seven female martyrs mentioned after the consecration in the Canon of the Mass, Eucharistic Prayer I.
Listen to the first reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews in today’s Mass…
… since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.
While we know very little about Agatha, she has been honored by the people of Sicily from very early Christian times. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’ in our Christian tradition. The first reading encourages us to stand fast in our faith, despite persecution, ridicule, and being despised,
… since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.
We are people who choose life, from womb to tomb, a people of non-violence, or compassion and forgiveness… in the midst of a consumer-driven and secular culture.
Jesus is our example… in today’s Gospel we see Jesus as a man of care and compassion. Jesus was a man who chose life and gave life and healing to others. His enemies nailed this beloved man to the Cross out of fear and envy and hatred. Jesus on the Cross is also our example. See his courage, his faithfulness to his Father, his love and forgiveness.
Our Christian martyrs like St. Agatha give witness to their love and faithfulness to Jesus, even to death. Most of us will not experience martyrdom as Jesus’ disciples. But the first reading says it so well for us today…
… since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.
Another way of looking at this is our Catholic teaching on the Communion of Saints.
Dorotheus de Gaza, a 6th century Christian, imagined a wheel…
the circle is the world, God is the center, the spokes from the edge to the center are ways of life of people.
The closer we desire to come to God as the saints do, the closer we draw to each other as we move to the center of the wheel… God. Such is the nature of love.
The closer we draw near to God in love, the more we are united together by love for neighbor.
The saints are those who have drawn so close to the center of the wheel that uncreated light streams from them into the world.
The closer we draw to them the closer we get to our loving God.
Father Donald Ware, C.P.