Being the Light: Lessons from St. Lucy
This week we celebrate Saint Lucy, a virgin martyr from third century Sicily who is venerated around the world, with a particularly strong following in Sweden. Her story consists mostly of legend, and though it may seem at first glance to have little to do with Christmas, there is a compelling reason why her feast is celebrated in the Advent season. Saint Lucy exemplifies the embodiment of “being the light of Christ in the world,” which all Christians are called to do, and most especially as we await the Incarnation.
The Saint of Light
Saint Lucy was born into a wealthy, noble family but lost her father at a young age. Raised as a Christian, Lucy was expected to marry despite her desire to remain a virgin. Her mother arranged for her marriage to a pagan man. Saint Lucy’s mother, Eutychia, fell ill shortly thereafter and Lucy convinced her to visit the shrine of Saint Agatha to pray for healing. A miraculous healing marked Eutychia’s deeper conversion and convinced her to allow Lucy to remain a virgin, sell her dowry, and give it to the poor.
The family harmony did not extend to Lucy’s fiancé, who angrily turned her into the government, knowing that it meant torture and death awaited her. However, the Holy Spirit intervened on Lucy’s behalf, rendering her immovable by the soldiers and even by a team of oxen. When Roman soldiers attempted to burn Lucy, the fire would not consume her but instead caused her to glow with a holy light – one reason why she is associated with light. Eventually, a soldier plunged his sword into her neck, and she became a martyr.
Tradition holds that Saint Lucy would visit Christians hiding in the catacombs, using a wreath of candles on her head to light her way as she brought them food in the dark. This is why the celebration of Lucia Day in Sweden includes the eldest daughter of the family dressing all in white and wearing a wreath of candles upon her head as she serves special breads and coffee to the family, as well as to neighbors and friends. Another legend from Sweden is that, in the midst of a famine during the Middle Ages, a woman bathed in light and dressed all in white sailed a ship across Lake Vänern, bringing bags of wheat to feed the starving people. She was identified as Saint Lucia, and this is why her feast is celebrated so spectacularly in Sweden.
Being the Light
The traditional Swedish hymn “Santa Lucia” beautifully describes Saint Lucy’s example as one who heroically answered the universal call to holiness: “Night treads with heavy step round yard and hearth / Woods brood in darkness now, sun’s gone from earth / But through the darkness comes, with brightness glowing / Saint of the heavenly light, Our Savior showing…” Her actions demonstrate heroic virtue: risking her own life to minister to hungry Christians, giving away all she had to feed the poor, and refusing to deny Christ even in the face of torture and death. Her life indeed “Our Savior shows,” mirroring Jesus’ selflessness and sacrifice – a bright light in a dark world.
The call to sainthood extends to each of us, and Saint Lucy is an excellent example of how we can each become the light of Christ to those around us. Saints set out to serve Christ in each person; they see the world as it is and are not content with leaving it that way. Saints are pulled from within, deep within their spirit, led by the Spirit to carry the light of the Gospel which burns within them to the darkest places where no one else dares to go. Their light has a threefold effect: it identifies the darkness by presenting a contrast to it; it casts out the darkness; and it pulls others in to join them.
Saint Lucy certainly presented a bright light of hope against the darkness of her time. Still today, she draws us in with her courage and faithfulness, beckoning us to hold fast to our Savior, Jesus. As Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (9:1-6). Saint Lucy’s light is but a reflection of the light of Jesus, our God who took on flesh to dwell among us in great love.
Humans are naturally attracted to what they are made for: love. We are drawn to truth and goodness. We desire holiness and it is attractive to us. Saints live out that virtue that we find most beautiful. In a spirit of hospitality, they invite others to join the quest for the Kingdom of God. They call out to even the lowliest, “You are a child of God. Come live in the light.”
May we hear Saint Lucy call out to us to be the light in our dark world. This Advent, we can bring sustenance, hope, and belonging to our families, neighbors, friends, and strangers alike. We can look, as Saint Lucy did, with eyes that see things as God sees them – that see people as children of God, worthy of love, and deserving of our time and sacrifice. We can adopt a posture of outwardness, seeking to give rather than receive, to feed rather than to be fed, just as Saint Lucy did. And in so doing, we can illuminate the sacredness in each person, reminding them of their dignity and calling them back to their source, the Lord.