Nov 25 – Memorial for St. Catherine of Alexandria, virgin, martyr
Catherine (d. 305) was a noble who was learned in science and oratory. After receiving a vision, she converted to Christianity. At the age of 18, during the persecution of Maximus, she offered to debate the pagan philosophers. Many were converted by her arguments, and immediately martyred. Maximus had her scourged and imprisoned.
The empress and the leader of Maximus’ army were amazed by the stories and went to see Catherine in prison. They converted and were martyred. Maximus ordered her broken on the wheel, but when she touched it, the wheel was destroyed. She was then beheaded, and her body whisked away by angels.
Catherine was immensely popular during the Middle Ages, and there were many chapels and churches devoted to her throughout western Europe. She was reported as one of the divine advisors to St. Joan of Arc. Her reputation for learning and wisdom led to her patronage of libraries, librarians, teachers, archivists, and anyone associated with wisdom or teaching. Her debating skill and persuasive language has led to her patronage of lawyers. And her torture on the wheel has led to those who work with them asking for her intercession. She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
While there may well have been a noble, educated, virginal lady who swayed pagans with her rhetoric during the persecutions, the accretion of legend, romance and poetry has long since buried the real Catherine.
The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a group of saints invoked with special confidence because they have proven themselves efficacious helpers in adversity and difficulties. Though each has a separate feast or memorial day the group was collectively venerated on Aug 8, until the feast was dropped and suppressed in the 1969 reform of the calendar.
They are invoked as a group because of the Black Plague which devastated Europe from 1346-1349. Among its symptoms were the tongue turning black, a parched throat, violent headache, fever, and boils on the abdomen. It attacked without warning, robbed its victims of reason, and killed within a few hours; many died without the last Sacraments. Brigands roamed the roads, people suspect of contagion were attacked, animals died, people starved, whole villages vanished into the grave, social order and family ties broke down, and the disease appeared incurable. The pious turned to Heaven, begging the intervention of the saints, praying to be spared or cured. This group devotion began in Germany, and the tradition ahs remained strong there.
- Patron Saint Index
1 Maccabees 6:1-13
King Antiochus was making his way across the upper provinces; he had heard that in Persia there was a city called Elymais, renowned for its riches, its silver and gold, and its very wealthy temple containing golden armour, breastplates and weapons, left there by Alexander son of Philip, the king of Macedon, the first to reign over the Greeks. He therefore went and attempted to take the city and pillage it, but without success, since the citizens learnt of his intention, and offered him a stiff resistance, whereupon he turned about and retreated, disconsolate, in the direction of Babylon. But while he was still in Persia news reached him that the armies that had invaded the land of Judah had been defeated, and that Lysias in particular had advanced in massive strength, only to be forced to turn and flee before the Jews; these had been strengthened by the acquisition of arms, supplies and abundant spoils from the armies they had cut to pieces; they had overthrown the abomination he had erected over the altar in Jerusalem, and had encircled the sanctuary with high walls as in the past, and had fortified Bethzur, one of his cities. When the king heard this news he was amazed and profoundly shaken; he threw himself on his bed and fell into a lethargy from acute disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. And there he remained for many days, subject to deep and recurrent fits of melancholy, until he understood that he was dying. Then summoning all his Friends, he said to them, ‘Sleep evades my eyes, and my heart is cowed by anxiety. I have been asking myself how I could have come to such a pitch of distress, so great a flood as that which now engulfs me – I who was so generous and well-loved in my heyday. But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem when I seized all the vessels of silver and gold there, and ordered the extermination of the inhabitants of Judah for no reason at all. This, I am convinced, is why these misfortunes have overtaken me, and why I am dying of melancholy in a foreign land.’
Some Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’
Some scribes then spoke up. ‘Well put, Master’ they said – because they would not dare to ask him any more questions.
“…because things had not turned out for him as planned… ”
In my early twenties and having been just baptised, I spent a lot of time contemplating the Catholic faith. I wondered about what was going on in the Church and in the world. I argued and thought about the things that would happen after I died. I thought about eternal salvation and tried to decipher who would be saved and who would not.
At mass one day, I heard the story about how St Augustine was walking along a beach trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity. There he saw a small boy running to and from the water’s edge to a hole in the sand, using a sea shell to carry water. When asked what he was doing, the boy answered, saying, “I am trying to move all the water of the sea into the hole in the sand!”. St Augustine laughed, thinking it was impossible. It was at that point St Augustine recognised that he was just like the little boy; only difference being that he was trying to fill his mind with God’s mysteries.
So many of us try so hard to figure out what will happen when we go to heaven. Despite all our scholarly studies and discourses, the reality is that only God knows. If I argued with someone else about, say, salvation and purgatory, does it mean that my viewpoint is correct if I am able to better argue my point of view?
Similarly, we plan our own paths in life, strategizing and working out ways to achieve what we want. Again, as our life experience shows us time and again, actual events tend not to conform to our plans. Again, only God knows what will happen exactly.
May we learn to be like little children sitting at our Lord’s feet. And like little children, we need to set aside our arrogance and self-importance and learn to be led.
(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)
Prayer: We pray that we may learn to give up our own egos and our sense of self-importance. Help us Father, to always look to You for guidance.
Thanksgiving : We are grateful, Lord, for showing us that You are the true source of knowledge. Help us to continue to remember that.