St. Lucy (Lucia) has been revered throughout the Christian world since at least the year 400 (the date of a reference to her found at Syracuse, the place of her martyrdom). Her name was included in the Canon of the Mass in the early Roman and Ambrosian rites; she was listed in early Greek and Latin liturgical books; and ancient churches from Greece to England bear her name. St. Aldhelm wrote about her in England in the 7th century.
The facts of her life are few: Born in Syracuse (Sicily), her father died when she was very young. Her mother, Eutychia, taught her the Christian faith, although she betrothed her at an early age to a young man who was not a Christian. Lucy, however, decided to devote herself to God in a life of celibacy and charity.
Like the woman healed by touching our Lord’s garment, Eutychia suffered from a hemorrhage, and her daughter persuaded her to visit the tomb of St. Agatha to pray for healing. This she did, accompanied by Lucy, and when Eutychia received healing of her disorder, Lucy confided her decision to her mother. Eutychia gave her blessing and allowed Lucy to give her dowry to the poor.
The reaction of the betrothed was quite different. He was so enraged by this rejection that he reported Lucy’s practice of Christianity to the authorities. The governor, Paschius, was intent on carrying out the persecutions of Christians ordered by the Emperor Diocletian, and he maliciously sentenced Lucy to life in a brothel. But God provided the young woman with the strength to persevere in her faith and also to resist being carried off by the soldiers. Many tortures were inflicted on her (including having her eyes gouged) and she was finally killed by the sword. Her martyrdom occurred in the year 304.
A similar thread is woven through the stories of many young women saints of this period (Cecilia, Barbara, Catherine, Agnes….) The ways of the world at that time were violently opposed to the Christian life: wealth was valued over generosity to the poor; sexual promiscuity was sought rather than virginity or marital fidelity; revenge was practiced rather than forgiveness.
The world today is just as it was then – violently, and often subversively opposed to the Christian life. May the example and the prayers of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr, give us strength in our struggle to live that life.
[sources: Oxford Dictionary of Saints; Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church; Prologue from Ochrid; Butler’s Lives of the Saints…]