Feast Day: February 5th
Why do pizza’s come in boxes?
I ask not only because I am looking forward to some leftover deep-dish that is currently ensconced in its cardboard container in our fridge, but to open the wider question of why we place anything in a container? No trick question here: we do so to protect the object held within. We put pizzas in boxes to keep them hot, and intact. We put artwork in frames, and behind glass or lasers, to safeguard it and to appreciate its value and beauty. We put our heads in helmets while riding a bike so that our brains will not be damaged, and cycling can be both enjoyable and safe.
That is also why we have the commandments. These ten, fundamental, divine commands are not arbitrary rules, rather they are the boundaries that protect our dignity and our relationships, with God, and with each other. Few things are as important as the bonds we have to other people, and the union we have to God, but if we throw out this divine rulebook as too limiting, too confining, we will lose the greatest treasures of our humanity along the way. (Just as surely as if I drove home with the pizza sitting unprotected on my car seat: both the pizza and the car would be damaged.)
What has this to do with Agatha? We know so little about her life: fragments of tradition passed down in the Martyrology of St. Jerome (an early list of the martyrs) and the Calendar of Carthage (an early liturgical calendar), that mention her nobility, beauty, consecrated virginity and martyrdom at the hands of Decius (the Roman prefect in Sicily in the 250s) who brutalized the young Agatha when she steadfastly scorned his advances, and maintained her Christian faith. We do not know much more than this, certainly few of Agatha’s words to the lustful, vicious, godless persecutor as he degraded, tortured, and abused her, and yet, we know one word that she did speak to him: “no.”
We, like Agatha, live in a world where the commandments are often ignored. Go down the list: worshipping the one, true, God; holding His name in veneration; keeping sacred His day; true love for parents and family; respect of human life; of spousal love; of another’s possessions; upholding truthful language; and never coveting… I think we can look in our own hearts, and in our current culture, and find more idolatry, more violence, and more contempt, than even was brutally in evidence in Decius. What must be our response? Of course, we turn in contrition to God for the times we ourselves have fallen short of the life that He calls us to live – we say “no” to ourselves, to our own idolatry, vice, and using one another – but what about when we are confronted by the brutality of our society or those in authority over us? Here too, we must stand alongside of Agatha, and say “no” to our world’s idolatry, cruelty, and contempt for human dignity.
This “no” will not win us any brownie points! Certainly, it did not save Agatha from the ravages of Decius. Once God’s commands are disregarded, we should not expect to stem the tide of evil easily and without cost. However, no matter the pain and degradation and hatred Decius inflicted on Agatha, he could not take away her relationship with God, her freedom, or her virtue, and no one can take those things from any of us either. Let us learn, with her, to say “no” to ourselves now, so that if ever we have to say a more difficult “no”, we will be willing to do so: for our own integrity, and for love of others, and God.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin is currently on the hunt for a new bicycle helmet. His previous one did exactly what it needed to when it took a beating, and not his scalp, but before things warm up and he gets back on the bike, it seems that an outing to Scheels is in order.