As we begin this shortest month of the year, we have already started off with several feast days as well as the secular holiday of ground hog’s day, a day in which many hold their breath to see if some fat groundhog will see its shadow or not. But in the Catholic Church, the aim is a bit higher, and already this first week we have celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple which takes place on the same day as the Purification of the Blessed Mother and is also celebrated as the Feast of Candlemas. It has been a busy week. Finally, with this first weekend well under way, we come to the Feast of Saint Blaise.
Saint Blaise was a well educated physician who lived in the 3rd century. When the Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia died, Blaise was chosen to replace him. It was a time in which terrible persecutions were being doled out for the Christians living there. The persecutions continued to worsen under the reign of the Governor Licinius. When soldiers were sent to gather all the Christians, God sent a message to Blaise to run into the wilderness, so as to escape imprisonment. Blaise obeyed and went into the woods where he found a cave in which he was able to continue serving the Christian faithful.
There are many stories surrounding this Saint including his connection with wild animals. Once a village woman had witnessed a wolf snatch a young piglet from her lot. She chased it through the woods and came upon the saint. She told him what had happened where upon he immediately scolded the wolf for stealing. Without hesitating, the wolf released the piglet and disappeared into the forest. Word spread through out the village that not only did the saint care for the Faithful but for all of God’s creatures as well.
In fact, when the governor’s soldiers were out searching for Saint Blaise, they found a cave surrounded by many animals which were sick and suffering. As they peered into the dark cave they witnessed Saint Blaise down among them, healing them. Instead of being awed, they captured him and took him to the governor who had him imprisoned.
While in prison, a woman who had heard of his miraculous ways, brought her young son who was suffering from a disease of the throat and asked Saint Blaise for his blessing. Some stories say that the young child had a fish bone stuck in his throat, but either way, as soon as the saint prayed for the young lad, he was healed. In thanksgiving for the cure, the woman brought candles to alleviate the cold and dampness that permeated the saint’s dark cell.
Soon Blaise stood before the judge. He was told that in order to secure his freedom, he must make an offering to the pagan gods of Rome and offer a pinch of incense to honor Caesar, and confess his loyalty to them instead of to the One True God. He refused to deny the Lord. So instead of gaining his freedom on earth, he was given the punishment of death. And then along with a group of religious women, he was cruelly tortured and beheaded.
Word spread about this miraculous Saint and he was often called upon in times of trouble. During the Middle Ages his fame grew and many of the Faithful developed a devotion to this holy saint. He is often represented in art with two candles blessing a young boy. He is also included in a listing of saints called the fourteen “Holy Helpers.” These are the holy men and women who could be counted on as intercessors for all manners of maladies. He was often called upon for protection from throat ailments, which often are the first sign of a more severe illness, such as an impending epidemic.
During the 14th century when a plague epidemic caused sudden and painful death, many died suddenly without the benefit of the sacraments. Perhaps born out of their fear, many people sought the intercession of the saints to ease their sufferings. It was during this time that many of the faithful developed a devotion to praying to the saints, in particular, Saint Blaise. Due to the many reports of healing and intercession, he became the patron of those suffering from any illness, but particularly those ailments that affect the throat. Even to this day, the 3rd of February is when the priest will use two blessed candles in the shape of a cross and bless everyone’s throat for protection against disease and illness.
As Catholics… as professed Christians, we do not mourn Saint Blaise’s earthly death. We know that this time on earth is but a brief moment of our eternal life, and like Blaise, we must place our Trust in the Lord. We are living a time when Christianity is falling by the wayside. So many of the Truths that have been clung to and professed for years are now being denied. We are living in a day and age where we are expected to abandon the teachings of the Church and follow along with the cultural trends. It seems that not a day goes by that we don’t hear of someone being punished for not embracing the humanistic ideologies that are moving through our societies. People are being condemned for their pro-life convictions and people are being persecuted for their stand on the sanctity of marriage. Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse. As these groups gain momentum, they tend to take on a more aggressive attitude towards those who do not accept these new ‘fangled truths,’ which are really lies..
We must understand that one day we may be facing the same kinds of persecution that Saint Blaise faced, and like him we must realize that even if we are faced with tyrannical leaders who threaten us with violence or even death, that we must stand firm in the Faith and like those before us, accept the promise of Christ and know that if we allow ourselves to be transformed through our own suffering and death, while holding fast to the Truth, God will protect us from all harm. And even though we may never reach the status of a declared saint in the Holy Mother Church, that perhaps one day, we may be able to join with those who have gone before us, and find our place with God in heaven.