Skip to comments.The Eyes of St. Lucy
Posted on 12/15/2013 3:12:00 PM PST by NYer
In iconography, there are different tokens, called attributes, that help to distinguish between different saints. Attributes can be common objects, or more unusual ones. For example, St. Peter has a set of keys, St. Jerome is dressed as a cardinal (even though he wasnt one), and St. Catherine of Alexandria is distinguished by a wheel.
Today is the feast of St. Lucy, which brings to mind the first time I saw an image of her, along with her attribute. She was holding two eyes, on a plate. No, thats not a typo. Two eyes. On a plate.
In a word, it was grotesque. In several more words, it was unpalatable, impolite, bizarre, and disturbing. Of course, I wasnt naïve enough to believe such things never happenedByzantine history provides plenty of examplesbut why would anyone be so crude as to commemorate it with a statue?
Its said that, after St. Lucy was blinded, God miraculously restored her sight. But its also fairly likely that this is only a legend. After all, neither the blinding itself nor the miraculous healing is mentioned either in the thirteenth-century Golden Legend or in earlier works.
Perhaps it will be helpful to go to the Gospels:
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Mt 6:2223)
Christ points out the limits of our vision. In one way or another, we are all blinded to our faults. Incidentally, this passage comes right after Christs condemnation of hypocrisy. We can all look great in our own eyes, and we can all rationalize anything that gets in the way of our self-deception. But we have been warned, on good authority, not to embrace this way of seeing:
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Mt 18:9)
And so, the unsettling image of St. Lucy starts to make a bit more sense. More than just a legendary accretion, her story is a call to the profound reevaluation we must make if we are to see clearly.
St. Lucy was martyred during the persecution of Diocletian, but, before she was killed, the Roman authorities tried to humiliate and disgrace her by condemning her to a house of ill reputeto put it more plainly, a brothel. When the judge sentenced her, she replied,
If you were to lift my hand to your idol and so make me offer against my will, I would still be guiltless in the sight of the true God, who judges according to the will and knows all things. If now, against my will, you cause me to be polluted, a twofold purity will be gloriously imputed to me. You cannot bend my will to your purpose; whatever you do to my body, that cannot happen to me.
St. Lucy could see something that the judge could not. But preaching the faith to him was like trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to a Manhattanitea hard sell if there ever was one. His worldly way of thinking might be summed up in Mark Twains charming but cynical definition of faith: believing that which we know not to be true.
Charming, perhaps, but wrongdead wrong. Such faith does not produce martyrs. St. Lucy, like other saints through the ages, saw through the outward appearance of respectability, comfort, and peace that is offered by the world. These items were off the table for her, because she caught the glimpse of something far greater.
Fulton Sheen once remarked that humor results from the ability to see through things. Slapstick, irony, even puns are only really funny when they point beyond themselves. The Church exhibits her sense of humor in this way by placing the feast day of St. Lucy, whose name means light, at the darkest time of the year. Its not such a great one-liner, of course, and it wont get as many laughs as Mark Twain. But then its a different kind of humorthe sort that doesnt go stale.
C.S. Lewis gives his own charming description of faith in his second Narnia novel, Prince Caspian. One day, the youngest child in the storyLucy Pevensieencounters the lion Aslan, whom she hasnt seen in a long time; but, much to her dismay, she soon realizes that her siblings cannot see him, even in broad daylight. Then she notices something else:
Aslan, said Lucy, youre bigger.
That is because you are older, little one, answered he.
Not because you are?
I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.
As we grow older, does our faith, like the faith of St. Lucy and little Lucy Pevensie, allow us to see Christ grow bigger? Or is there a need to rub our eyes, in the event that we are missing something important? Getting to the bottom of these questions will probably take more than one Advent, so its a good idea to get started now.
We also have the example of St. Rafqa, a nun. Rafca suffered for seventeen years as a blind paralytic. Only God knew how much she had to endure. Her pain was continuous night and day, yet the other sisters never heard her murmuring or complaining. She often told them that she thanked God for her sufferings, "...because I know that the sickness I have is for the good of my soul and His glory" and that "the sickness accepted with patience and thanksgiving purifies the soul as the fire purifies gold."
One day, mother Ursula noticed that Rafca seemed to be suffering much more than usual and, touched by pity for the poor sister, asked her, Is there anything else you want from this world? Have you never regretted the loss of your sight? Don't you sometimes wish you could see this new convent with all the natural beauties that surround it--the mountains and rocks, and the forests?"
Sister Rafca answered simply, "I would like to see just for an hour, Mother--just to be able to see you."
"Only for one hour?" asked the Superior. "And you would be content to return to that world of darkness?"
"Yes," replied the invalid.
Mother Ursula shook her head in wonder and began to leave Rafca's cell. Suddenly, the paralyzed nun's face broke into a beautiful smile and she turned her head toward the door. "Mother," she called, I can see you!"
The Superior turned around quickly and saw the glow on Rafca's face. That alone was enough to tell her that her daughter was not teasing, but she wanted to be certain that the phenomenon was actual and not just a trick of the mind of the poor nun who had been blind for so many years.
Desperately trying to conceal her emotions, she walked back to the bedside.
"If it is as you say," she queried, "tell me what is lying on the wardrobe." Sister Rafca turned her face toward the little closet and answered, "The Bible and the Lives of the Saints--she could hardly contain her excitement. But, she reasoned, perhaps Rafca knew that these were the only two books in her cell as she had no need for others and the sisters who read to her usually only used these two titles--knowing that the invalid loved them best.
Another test would have to be tried and this time, witnesses were called in the testify to the miracle.
There was a lovely multi-colored cover on Rafca's bed. Mother Ursula called her attention to it and began to point to the colors one by one, asking the newly-sighted nun to call out the names of the colors as she pointed to them. The three sisters who assisted the Superior in the test verified that Sister Rafca named each color correctly.
As she had requested, though, this new sight lasted only for one hour during which time she conversed with Mother Ursula and looked around her cell, at her siters, and through the window to catch glimpses of the beauties outside.
After this time, she fell into a peaceful sleep.
On the first Sunday of October 1885, she entered the monastery's church and began to pray asking Jesus to permit her to experience some of the sufferings He endured during His Passion. Her prayer was immediately granted: Unbearable pain began in her head and moved to her eyes.
Her Superior insisted that she undergo a medical treatment. After all local attempts to cure her had failed, she was sent to Beirut for treatment. Passing by St. John-Marcus Church in Byblos, her companions learned that an American doctor was in the area. So they took her to him. He ordered an immediate surgery for her right eye. St. Rafqa refused anesthesia. In the course of the surgery, the doctor uprooted by mistake her eye which fell on the floor. Rafqa did not complain and told him: "For Christ's Passion, God bless your hands and may God pay you back". Within a short time, the disease struck the left eye.
For the next 12 years she continued to experience intense pain in her head. Throughout this period, as before, she remained patient and uncomplaining, praying in joy for the gift of sharing in Jesus suffering.
In 1899, she lost the sight in her left eye and became paralyzed. With this, a new stage of her suffering began, intensified by the dislocation of her articulations. She spent the last seven years of her life lying on the bed, only on the right side of her body. She could not move. There was a very big injury in her left shoulder and she used to repeat: "For the wound in the shoulder of Jesus". Her vertebras were visible through her skin and her body was very light. She became like a skeleton covered by skin. Her hands stayed intact; she used them to weave socks.
Although she was blind and paralyzed she kept smiling and thanking God for His grace of letting her participate in His Passion.
Her face reflected peace and tenderness until the end of her days.
According to some doctors, Rafqa suffered from an osteo-articular tuberculosis.
On the 23rd of March 1914, supplied with the Holy Sacrament, she called upon Jesus, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, then she rested in peace after a life of prayer, service and years of unbearable pain. She was buried in the monastery's cemetery. A splendid light appeared on her grave for three consecutive nights. With the intercession of St. Rafqa, Our Lord made lots of miracles and blessings.
She is a remarkable saint and a beautiful example of suffering for Love of Christ.
St. Rafqa with her Mother Superior
Her relics were removed from Syracuse during the Middle Ages. Apparently most of them are now in Venice. I was in Syracuse in 2004 and they were celebrating the fact that the Venetians were sending the relics back briefly in honor of the 1700th anniversary of her martyrdom.
What an outstanding photograph. Thank you! It looks like St. Rafqa is indeed weaving socks.
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