St Agatha

Virgin and martyr (entered heaven in the early Christian centuries)

Dear Ann,

I just received the horrid news.  I knew that Steven was traveling in Europe during these months, but I didn’t know that his travels were in response to his grandfather’s unexpected death.  If I had known that he was on an existential pilgrimage, I would have done my best to see him supplied with something healthy to read; as it was, he kept in his back pocket a dog-eared copy of Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil.”  Hardly the nourishment his soul needed. If that was his refuge from grief (he grew up under his grandfather’s care, you know; they were best of friends), it is no wonder he returned home having abandoned his faith. I will be sure to keep him in my prayers, and I am confident that our Lord will guide him back to the light.

In all honesty, however, I have little compassion for (though a lot of sorrow at) such decisions.  The underlying assumption of a statement like Steven’s (“If God really existed, he wouldn’t have let my grandfather die”) is quite juvenile.  God sends suffering to all his beloved children – even to his only begotten Son. It is the lesson of the crucifix. Suffering offers us a chance to love, to believe, to hope.  Just look for example at today’s saint. She was the beautiful daughter of a wealthy and powerful Sicilian family. When just a teenager, she was moved to consecrate herself exclusively to the Lord.  Typically, her many suitors took this amiss, and one of them who had some rank in their city tried to force himself upon her by threats of torture (an edict forbidding the Christian faith was in force at the time) and then surrounding her with women of sordid reputation.  She remained as firm as ever, though, and her judge had her beaten and thrown into prison for the night. The next day she was even more radiant with confidence and loyalty to her divine spouse, and her enraged persecutor had her racked, singed with torches, scraped with an iron claw, and to add insult to injury, they cut off her breasts.  Her dying words were, “Lord, my Creator, you have always protected me from the cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Receive now my soul.”

How different was her reaction to suffering than Steven’s!  And she had even more “reasons” to complain; after all, it was Christ himself who inspired her to consecrate her virginity to him, so why didn’t he protect her from such agonizing and humiliating tortures?  I doubt the thought even crossed her mind; she loved God, and those who love know that hardships are golden opportunities – chances to show forth that love. Let’s hope Steven is courageous enough to learn St Agatha’s lesson.

Your affectionate uncle, Eddy

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