Memorial of Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr
(Hebrews 12:1-4; Mark 5:21-43)
It is said that there was a rivalry in ancient times between the Church of Rome and that of Sicily. Each claimed that its martyrs were greater. The universal Church has honored these claims by including their representative saints in the first Eucharistic Prayer. Today the Church honors St. Agatha, a virgin and martyr, hailing from Sicily just as three weeks ago it celebrated St. Agnes, a Roman virgin-martyr.
Sicilians say that Agatha was tortured and died in prison in the middle of the third century. A year after her death, when Mount Etna was about to explode, the people asked Agatha’s intercession with the Lord. The volcano did not erupt, and the people credited their safety to her.
The reading from Hebrews today mentions a “great…cloud of witnesses” who stand as models of a faithful life. The reference is properly to the great personages of the Old Testament, but we can think of it as including saints like Agatha who endured death rather than abandon faith in Christ. As today we live in a society where faith wanes, we should consider the “cloud of witnesses” and strive to emulate their commitment to Christ.