Wednesday, December 13, 2017

St. Lucy's Day (Mid-week Message)

Fr. Tony’s Mid-week Message
December 13, 2017

St. Lucy’s Day

Today, December 13, is the Feast Day of Saint Lucy, a martyr during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian (304 C.E.).    She is associated with light in darkness, since her Latin name Lucia is very close to the Latin word for light, lucis. 

Twelve days before Christmas, St. Lucy’s Day is a mirror and foretaste of January 6’s great festival of light, Epiphany, twelve days after Christmas Day.     Before the Gregorian Calendar was introduced in 1582, December 13 was the day of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.   St. Lucy is one of the few saints celebrated in reformation Scandinavia, and her day is marked by a procession of a young woman representing the saint.  She wears a crown of lit candles and is followed by young women (and now also young men) bearing candles.

Lucy refused a pagan marriage and gave her dowry to the poor.  Her jilted pagan bridegroom reported her to the authorities, who demanded that she sacrifice to the image of the Emperor.  When she refused, she was sentenced to spend the rest of her life in a brothel.   She replied by saying that God judges the intentions of our heart and not our actions when forced against our will.  When the soldiers came to take her away, they found that they could not move her from her house despite increasing heroic efforts on their part, and her death resulted.  In some retellings, St. Lucy dies by having her eyes gouged out before being beheaded, though the late medieval iconic image of St. Lucy bearing a pair of eyeballs in her hand probably results from her being, associated as she is with light, the patron saint of those suffering from blindness and eye diseases, rather than the means of her execution. 

Here is John Donne's poem for St. Lucy's Day when it was still the Winter Solstice, with my bracketed notes trying to bring his sense into modern English:  

by John Donne

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
    The sun is spent, and now his flasks
    Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
            The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

[It is the end of the year, St. Lucy’s day, with scarcely any light. The sun is exhausted and its rays are like mere firecrackers that fizzle briefly and go out.   The world’s life force seems to have drained into the ground; the thirsty earth has drunk it and is now waterlogged like a person with edema-swollen feet.   Life itself seems shrunken, dead and buried. Still, all these things seem positively cheerful in comparison to me, reduced to feeling like the words engraved on a tombstone.]

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
    For I am every dead thing,
    In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
            For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin'd me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

[So look carefully at me, all of you who will be lovers next spring — as far away as another world — because I have become like death itself, though love with its magic once distilled out of my nothingness the concentrated essence of myself.  But Love also ruined me. He has now re-made me out of absence, darkness and death, almost as if I had been born out of nonexistent things.]

All others, from all things, draw all that's good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
    I, by Love's limbec, am the grave
    Of all, that's nothing. Oft a flood
            Have we two wept, and so
Drown'd the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

[Everyone around me seems to have the best of all good things. They are made of life, soul, form, body, spirit — they are real.  But I, through the distillation process that is love, have been reduced to a mere grave where emptiness is buried.  Many times in the past we two wept a flood of tears that drowned everything. Many times we became chaotic messes when we had to pay attention to anything besides each other.  Many times when we were apart, we became lifeless as corpses.]

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
    Were I a man, that I were one
    I needs must know ; I should prefer,
            If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.
But I am none; nor will my Sun renew.

[But she  (the loved one)  died, if that word can be used in talking about her, and that turned me into something like a potion distilled from the primordial chaos before creation.  If I were a real human being (and I should know what that is like because I used to be one) I would think myself better off if I were an animal.  Even plants and stones have feelings, and they are more real and alive than I am.  They are capable of loving and hating. Even if I were a nothing, a mere object, I would have the capacity to cast a shadow when light shone on me. But I am truly nothing, and the sun will never shine for me again.]

You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
    At this time to the Goat is run
    To fetch new lust, and give it you,
            Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night's festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year's and the day's deep midnight is.

[All you lovers—on account of whom the sun in the sky (not the true sun) now arrives in the constellation Capricorn (the goat), to borrow for the new summer new life-drive (like a goat’s lust)—all of you go and enjoy your summer.  Since she (St. Lucy) is enjoying and celebrating this long night, let me get ready for her, and let me call this hour her (the dead loved one's) vigil, and her evening (or Eve), since it is the midnight of both the year and this day.]

Grace and Peace,
Fr. Tony+