5 Feb – Memorial for St. Agatha, virgin and martyr
We have little reliable information about this martyr who has been honoured since ancient times, and whose name is included in the canon of the Mass. Young, beautiful and rich, Agatha (d.250) lived a life consecrated to God. When Decius announced the edicts against Christians, the magistrate Quinctianus tried to profit by Agatha’s sanctity; he planned to blackmail her into sex in exchange for not charging her. Handed over to a brothel, she refused to accept customers.
After rejecting Quinctianus’ advances, she was beaten, imprisoned, tortured, her breasts were crushed and cut off. She told the judge, “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?” One version has it that St. Peter healed her. She was then imprisoned again, then rolled on live coals; when she was near death, an earthquake struck. In the destruction that followed, a friend of the magistrate was crushed, and the magistrate fled. Agatha thanked God for an end to her pain, and died.
Legend says that carrying her veil, taken from her tomb in Catania, in procession has averted erupts of Mount Etna. Her intercession is reported to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion in 1551.
– Patron Saint Index
With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne.
Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.
When Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up, Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.
Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’
While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.
“… persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus”
I’m learning how to drive at the moment. You get three attempts at the behind-the-wheel exam in America. I’ve failed it all three times now. One of my issues seems to be an inability to decide what to focus on. It terrifies me that I have to watch so many things – the speed gauge, side mirrors, rearview mirror, my blind spots, the road around me, the road signs AND my GPS – all at the same time! I was always rubbish at multi-tasking, never mind doing it at high speed while barreling down the freeway. I’ve also developed the bad habit of obsessing over my rear and side mirrors. Where your focus goes, in that direction, as well as whether the car moves. All this glancing and bobbing my head around makes me veer the car alarmingly. It’s a completely miserable business! If I could, I would just Uber everywhere, all of the time!
‘Focus’ is the key theme in our readings today. How we orientate ourselves, where we look, what we choose to concentrate on, drives all of our actions. The woman who touched Jesus’ cloak was focused on healing. Jairus was focused on getting Jesus to his daughter. Jesus was focused on fulfiling God’s purpose for him. They were all orientated towards doing one thing – just one thing. A singular purpose.
I’ve noticed that while writing this column, I’ve stopped countless of times now to look on Amazon to see what’s new, checked my schedule to see what’s on for tomorrow, ordered dinner online, checked the weather forecast online, scrolled through my Instagram account, scrolled through my Facebook account, browsed my Netflix account – and that’s just been in the last 15 minutes. What have I achieved in these 15 minutes though? Not very much. A lot of restless flitting around, with nothing worthwhile to show for except tired eyes and a tired brain.
A distracted heart is the devil’s way of keeping us from running God’s race for us. Scripture is filled with examples of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things because they set their minds singularly on it and made it their sole purpose. Do one thing, just one thing. What a novel idea in this age of media overload and multi-tasking! And why not? We might be happier and feel more purposeful for it. We might even feel less exhausted all of the time!
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the focus to finish what we have been tasked to do without veering off in all directions.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who brings us back when we wander off.