03 Feb – Memorial for St. Blaise, Bishop & Martyr; Memorial for St. Ansgar, Bishop
Blaise (d. 316) was a physician and Bishop of Sebaste, Armenia. He lived in a cave on Mount Argeus. He was a healer of men and animals. According to legend, sick animals would come to him on their own for help, but would never disturb him in prayer.
Agricola, governor of Cappadocia, came to Sebaste to persecute Christians. His huntsmen went into the forests of Argeus to find wild animals for the arena games, and found many waiting outside Blaise’s cave. Discovered in prayer, Blaise was arrested, and Agricola tried to get him to recant his faith. While in prison, Blaise ministered to and healed his fellow prisoners, including saving a child who was choking on a fish bone; this led to the blessing of throats of Blaise’s feast day.
Thrown into a lake to drown, Blaise stood on the surface and invited his persecutors to walk out and prove the power of their gods; they drowned. When he returned to land, he was martyred by being beaten, his flesh torn out with wool combs (which led to his association with and patronage of those involved in the wool trade), and then beheaded.
Blaise has been extremely popular for centuries in both the Eastern and Western Churches. In 1222, the Council of Oxford prohibited servile labour in England on his feast. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
Ansgar (801-865) was born to the French nobility. He was a Benedictine monk at Old Corbie Abbey in Picardy, and New Corbie in Westphalia. He studied under St. Adelard and St. Paschasius Radbert. He accompanied the converted King Harold to Denmark when the exiled king returned home.
He was a missionary to Denmark and Sweden. He founded the first Christian church in Sweden in c.832. He was abbot of New Corbie c.834. He was ordained Archbishop of Hamburg by Pope Gregry IV. He was a papal legate to the Sacndanavian countries. He established the first Christian school in Denmark, but was run out by pagans, and the school was burned to the ground. He campaigned against slavery.
He was Archbishop of Bremen. He converted Erik, King of Jutland. He was a great preacher, a miracle worker, and greatly devoted to the poor and sick. Sadly, after his death most of his gains for the Church were lost to resurgent paganism.
– Patron Saint Index
As the fat is set apart from the communion sacrifice,
so David was chosen out of all the sons of Israel.
He played with lions as though with kids,
and with bears as though with lambs of the flock.
While still a boy, did he not slay the giant,
and relieve the people of their shame,
by putting out a hand to sling a stone
which brought down the arrogance of Goliath?
For he called on the Lord Most High,
who gave strength to his right arm
to put a mighty warrior to death,
and lift up the horn of his people.
Hence they gave him credit for ten thousand,
and praised him while they blessed the Lord,
by offering him a crown of glory;
for he massacred enemies on every side,
he annihilated his foes the Philistines,
and crushed their horn to this very day.
In all his activities he gave thanks
to the Holy One, the Most High, in words of glory;
he put all his heart into his songs
out of love for his Maker.
He placed harps before the altar
to make the singing sweeter with their music;
he gave the feasts their splendour,
the festivals their solemn pomp,
causing the Lord’s holy name to be praised
and the sanctuary to resound from dawn.
The Lord took away his sins,
and exalted his horn for ever;
he gave him a royal covenant,
and a glorious throne in Israel.
King Herod had heard about Jesus, since by now his name was well-known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah’; others again, ‘He is a prophet, like the prophets we used to have.’ But when Herod heard this he said, ‘It is John whose head I cut off; he has risen from the dead.’
Now it was this same Herod who had sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife whom he had married. For John had told Herod, ‘It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife.’ As for Herodias, she was furious with him and wanted to kill him; but she was not able to, because Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.
An opportunity came on Herod’s birthday when he gave a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.’ And he swore her an oath, ‘I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the Baptist’ The girl hurried straight back to the king and made her request, ‘I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, here and now, on a dish.’ The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. So the king at once sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John’s head. The man went off and beheaded him in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
It is John whose head I cut off; he has risen from the dead
Several years ago when I lived with my parents, I had a cat that caused some trouble to my neighbours. It would go into the neighbours’ home and defecate there. One day a particular neighbour set up a trap to catch my cat and took it to goodness knows where. I never saw my cat again. At Christmas that year, to make peace with the neighbours, I gave out vouchers to all my neighbours because I didn’t know exactly which neighbours’ homes my cat used to frequent. Only one neighbour returned my vouchers. Guess which one? The same neighbour continues to return all gifts in the subsequent years.
In today’s gospel reading, King Herod heard many rumours about Jesus, but the moment someone said it was John the Baptist who rose from the dead, Herod believed it. It was not because that particular rumour was more believable than the rest; it was because of Herod’s guilty conscience – the same reason why my neighbour returns gifts to us.
Herod’s no saint, and neither was David. Though a great king, David committed many sins nonetheless. But the difference between Herod and David is that David had a clear conscience. Whenever he committed a sin against God, the Lord often sent a prophet to teach him the error of his ways. David was humble and quick to learn from his mistakes. When David sinned and was shown the error of his ways, he was quick to repent and make amends. That is why David had a clear conscience.
Compare this with King Herod who, even when he realised he made a mistake, chose to protect his ego instead of breaking his word to the daughter of Herodias. But before we judge Herod, let us ask ourselves: Have I ever promised something to someone and realised that I couldn’t fulfil the promise, but insisted on trying to anyway?
We may think that it is noble to do that because we want to keep our promise. Herod thought so too. Am I saying that it is alright to break a promise? Actually, yes! If we already know early on that we cannot fulfil a promise, then it is better to break it now than to break it later. Three good things can come from it. First, the person is informed early on that you cannot fulfil your promise, and has time to find another way to get it done. Second, you don’t waste time and effort on a futile job and can devote what’s saved towards fulfilling other commitments made. Third, you have an opportunity to be humble and admit that you were wrong to have made that promise in the first place. Most importantly however, you will have a clear conscience.
If you’re anything like me, and you always want to help other people, you cannot help running into the problem of over-promising and under-delivering. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver. Try it today!
(Today’s OXYGEN by Daniel Tay)
Prayer: We pray for helpful people who over-promise and under-deliver. May we learn humility.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for people who tell us early that they cannot finish a job they promised to do.