Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lucy and Odilia: two saints for sore eyes

(Reprinted from Fighting Irish Thomas, Dec. 13, 2006)
In the name of Jesus Christ, may the eyes of your body and the eyes of your soul receive light. –the prayer of Bishop Erhard over St. Odilia, immediately before her blindness was healed
As I prepared to write this blog entry, my contact lenses were killing me, and my left eye in particular felt like it was on fire. How fortuitous, then, to find not one, but two saints who had a direct connection with eye healing or vision intercession, the popular St. Lucy and the insightful St. Odilia.

St. LucyFirst, St. Lucy ... Though celebrated in song (“Santa Lucia”) and dance (notably the Swedish “Festival of Light” on her feast day), as well as commemorated in the First Eucharistic Prayer, not a lot is known of her life other than the fact she died for her faith. Born of noble parents in Sicily, Lucy wanted to dedicate her life to God, and when she refused a suitor, he denounced her as a Christian, and she was sentenced to death. But here the details get dicey. One legend has the governor sentencing her to a brothel, but Lucy suddenly became like a stone and the guards were unable to move her. Another tells of her being lit on fire but the flames not consuming her (a la Polycarp) and she was finally stabbed in the throat. Another (remember, St. Lucy is the patron saint of those with eye trouble), has the judge plucking her eyes out, another has Lucy giving her eyes to the suitor who admired them. In each case her sight was miraculously restored. Others say she became patroness of eyesight because of her purity and the fact her name means “light.” In any event, all accounts agree she was definitely martyred for her faith around the year 304.

St. OdiliaOn the other hand, we know for a fact that St. Odilia was born blind, and we also know that her father, a Frankish nobleman named Adalric, was so enraged his wife not only bore a daughter (instead of a future-king son), but a daughter with a disability, that he wanted the child killed. His wife Bereswindis tried to plead with him that it was the will of God, but he refused to take it as anything but a personal affront. Finally, Adalric agreed to spare her life only on the condition the blind baby be sent away and never be mentioned in his presence.

Flash forward a dozen years, when the holy Bishop Erhard of Regensburg had a dream that he was to go to the Besancon Monastery, find a blind girl, baptize her and then restore her sight. Sure enough, there he found the humble Odilia, and the bishop did as the Lord foretold. Of course, word got back to Adalric, and when Hugh, the most compassionate of his four sons, suggested they now bring Odilia back to live with the family, he refused, figuring she would soundly reproach him. But Hugh was not one to take no for an answer, and brought his overjoyed sister back to the castle anyway. After beating his disobedient son within an inch of his life, Adalric finally looked into his daughter’s eyes, had an immediate change of heart, and, as the story goes, “became as affectionate as he had formerly been cruel.” Of course her father wanted her to marry, but when Odilia instead said she wanted to be a nun, Adalric showed he had learned his lesson, not only granting her request, but bequeathing Odilia a castle which she could use as a monastery. Odilia became the abbess of a new religious community and her band (of sisters) became famous throughout the land by caring for the poor, the sick, and the maimed. Odilia died around the year 720. Her name, by the way, means “daughter of light.”

And so, even if these two saints for sore eyes cannot heal my literal short sightedness today, I’m sure that in some way “Light” and “Daughter of Light” will help me to see.

Saints Lucy and Odilia, pray for us!

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