Life & Soul Life and Soul

Omnium Gatherum

A girl plays the role of Lucia as she leads the procession during the Swedish Sankta Lucia Festival of Light service at York Minster (Getty)

This week we celebrate Our Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Conception and the feast of St Lucy, virgin and martyr.

Lucy, from the Latin word lux, “light”, is one of our beautiful saints who captured the imagination of countless of our forebears. I might remind you of her naming in the short mnemonic phrase about the penitential Ember Days observed in each of the four earthly seasons: “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy.” Advent’s Embers come after St Lucy’s Day. Let us do penance during this joyfully penitential season.

Speaking of St Lucy, her feast, December 13, was considered the year’s darkest day under the old Julian Calendar. In 1582 the imposition of the Gregorian Calendar corrected the calendric/solar drift by some 10 days. Since the Winter Solstice is December 21, they weren’t off by much. Indeed, by the time St Lucy’s Day rolls around, we denizens of the Northern Hemisphere feel deeply the shortness of the days, the darkness of cold nights. With the arrival of St Lucy in the remembrance of our altars, we are reminded that, pretty soon, our lux will lengthen again day by day. Some peoples of the North, such as in Scandinavia, are so excited by this prospect that they put on crowns of candles and light their heads on fire.

St Lucy, in fact, is sometimes depicted with a lantern or a crown of candles. Far more commonly, she carries her own eyes, her lights, on a platter. Saintly legend has it that, as part of her torture, her eyes were gouged out. Another hagiographical account says that she put her own eyes out because one of her undesired suitors admired them too much. We might stop to think about that for a moment. Our Lord says, “And if thy right eye scandalise thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29). Lucy did not want anything to stand in the way of her virginal bond with the Lord. So her eyes, lovely to others, were sacrificed.

In her case, suitors looked wrongly at her. How about in your case? Do you use your eyes to look wrongly at others? Do you guard your “lights”? Remember: there are some things which, once seen, you cannot unsee. Those things can darken and imperil your soul.