Memorial of Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr
(Hebrews 12:1-4; Mark 5:21-43)
Today we celebrate St. Agatha, a Sicilian virgin and martyr. Her story is much like that of St. Agnes, the Roman, whom we remembered last month. It is said that Agatha had a powerful suitor who sent her to a brothel and then to be tortured when she refused him. The similarity of the two stories may be attributed to the way early Christians took pride in their saints. Coming from different regions, they would boast whose martyrs were the bravest or bore the gravest trials.
We can see a glimpse of this pride in today’s first reading. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds his community of its “cloud of witnesses.” These were the men and women of Israel who sacrificed themselves for love of God. The writer exhorts his people to follow in their ways. He does not want them to abandon their faith to pursue pleasure or comfort. Rather they are to make the necessary sacrifices to follow Christ to eternal life.
Because there are fewer people at mass these days, the exhortation of Hebrews has pointed relevance. We too have a “cloud of witnesses” – certainly saints like Mother Teresa and Padre Pio but also relatives and friends. These people kept the faith despite hardships. Perhaps they walked a mile to mass in freezing weather. Maybe they gave up the opportunity to marry because their suitor was divorced or because of a religious vocation. Their lives were first testimony of God’s love for us. Then they witnessed the hope of all Christians for eternal happiness.