Every year, on December 13, the Church honors the virgin martyr Saint Lucy. She was born in Syracuse, Sicily around the year 283, to wealthy parents who were members of the nobility. Her father died when she was a baby and she was brought up as a Christian by her mother, Eutychia. When Lucy was very young, she made a private vow of virginity to God. We don’t know if she kept her vow a secret from her mother or if her mother did not agree to it, but Lucy was promised in marriage to a young pagan man.
Eutychia had suffered from a hemorrhage for over four years and like the woman in the Gospel of Mark, she had seen many doctors, but they were unable to help her. Lucy suggested to her mother that they make a pilgrimage to Catania, to pray for healing at the tomb of the Sicilian virgin martyr, Saint Agatha. They went to Catania and prayed at Saint Agatha’s tomb all evening, and fell asleep there. Saint Agatha appeared in a dream to Lucy. In Lives of the Saints, written by Aelfric, a monk in the tenth century, he described Saint Agatha’s appearance to Lucy. Addressing Lucy as her sister, she told her that her faith had helped her mother and she would be healed. She then told her that “even as this town is made famous by me through Christ’s favor, so shall Syracuse be made famous by you, because you prepared yourself for Christ, in your pure virginity, as a pure habitation.” When Lucy awakened, she told her mother that she was healed, and Eutychia realized that she had been instantly and miraculously cured. Lucy then told her mother of her vow and her desire to give all of her money to the poor. Eutychia gave her permission and when they returned home, Lucy gave away her money and possessions. Lucy also persuaded her mother to donate all her money as well.
When Lucy’s fiancé learned she was consecrated to God and was giving all her money to the poor, he became very angry and informed the governor that she was a Christian. This happened in the year 304, during the time of the persecution under Diocletian when many Christians were martyred for their faith. Lucy was arrested and brought before the governor, who ordered her to sacrifice before idols. She refused and said that the sacrifice that pleased God was to assist orphans and widows, which she explained she had been doing and added that she also offered her life to God. When he threatened her and said she would stop talking when beaten, she told him of Jesus’ promise to His disciples that when arrested by government rulers for their faith, the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say. He asked if the Holy Spirit dwelt in her and she answered, “Those who live chastely and piously are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” The governor continued to argue with her and was not interested in learning the truth. He ordered that Lucy be taken to a house of prostitution, but the guards could not move her. God protected her. Then the governor commanded that Lucy be burned to death, but the fire did not touch her. She was martyred by a sword piercing her throat.
One of the lessons of the virgin martyrs including Saint Lucy is the greatness of the virtue of chastity. Saint Lucy and the other virgin martyrs had made a vow of virginity to Jesus; they wanted to belong to Jesus completely and to conform their lives to His. They wanted to live as if they were already in Heaven. They were called to be consecrated women although still living in the world. One of the conflicts in the Church today is over Her teachings on chastity. Some Catholics try to argue that it is not possible to live a chaste life and practice abstinence. Yet there are many faithful Catholics who do so today; not only priests and religious, but also laypeople who like Saint Lucy have made a vow of perpetual chastity while remaining in the world. Other lay Catholics practice chastity without making a vow, such as people who are single, widowed, or separated from their spouses. We can look to Saint Lucy as an example of the virtue of chastity and ask her intercession to help everyone recognize it as a gift and practice it in their lives.
Saint Lucy is also an example of someone with complete trust in God. She showed her trust in God’s power to heal and in the prayers of the saints when she accompanied her mother on the pilgrimage to Catania to seek the intercession of Saint Agatha. She showed her trust in God’s Providence by giving away her money and encouraging her mother to give away her money as well, instead of saving it for themselves for the future. She continued to show her trust in God when she was arrested. She bravely proclaimed the Truth to the governor, relying on the Holy Spirit to guide her in what to say. She also trusted that God would allow her to keep her vow of virginity, and He protected her from being brought to the house of prostitution. She died a martyr, trusting in all that Jesus promised in Sacred Scripture, believing that she would be with Him in Heaven.
Saint Lucy is sometimes depicted as holding a plate containing her eyes. There is a tradition that she was tortured by having her eyes removed, but God miraculously restored them. For this reason, she is a patroness of people with eye diseases, of the blind, and of ophthalmologists and opticians. She may also be their patroness because her name means “light”.
Jesus told His disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:14 – 16) The saints of our Church are such lights, giving witness to Jesus by the holiness of their lives. Just as Saint Agatha was a light to Saint Lucy, Saint Lucy also became a light to the members of the Church and the world. During her life, Saint Lucy demonstrated great faith and love for Jesus, confidence in the intercession of the saints, the virtue of chastity, the virtue of charity, courage in proclaiming the truth of the Catholic Faith, and in suffering martyrdom. Catholics have honored her since the sixth century and she is one of the saints named in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
image: Statue of St. Lucy in Split, Croatia / Bakusova / Shutterstock