Friday, February 12, 2010

St. Apollonia (d. 249)

The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom. There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (7:31-37)

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to Him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Him to place His Hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put His fingers into the man's ears. Then He spat and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well", they said. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.

God’s ways
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In the vicinity of Tyre our Lord had striven to spend a little time in solitude with his disciples, but it did not happen. He was found out, and was successfully badgered by the pagan Syrophenician woman to heal her daughter of some demonic infestation. Doubtlessly, just as the woman had discovered her Benefactor, so she brought him to the attention of others. So our Lord, with his heart full of love and compassion, moved on — circuitously — to the Decapolis region (Greek: deka, ten; polis, city: the Ten Cities). The Decapolis settlements were centres of Greek and Roman culture in an area that was otherwise Semitic. With the exception of Damascus, the "Region of the Decapolis" was located roughly in modern-day Jordan. We are not told how long he stayed here — perhaps only very briefly, and as with Tyre, it was largely a Gentile area. But again, here too he was prevailed upon to heal. We read that “some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.” The petitioners certainly had faith — all they required of him was that he touch the man with his hand. That was all that was necessary — but, intriguingly, we notice that our Lord does not do this. With the importunate Canaanite woman our Lord simply says his word, and the woman went back to her home calmed with absolute assurance about her suffering daughter. Here he does not do this. Despite their request for a simple touch of the hand, there is a most unusual “ritual” — an elaborate procedure which constitutes a bit of a mystery. We read that after “he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spat and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, Ephphatha! (which means, Be opened!)” (Mark 7: 31-37). Scholars make various suggestions as to the reason for this unusual course — it provided a type for our Lord’s action in the future sacramental life and practice of the Church, and so forth. But Christ himself does not say. For his reasons, this is the way he chose to do it.

We are at the very least reminded by this event that the ways of God are varied and often inscrutable. For example, the Cause for the Beatification of one recently declared Venerable by the Church is in process. Among the requirements for Beatification is a sign from God in the form of a miracle obtained by that person’s intercession. So an obscure sick person somewhere in the world prays with fervour to the one declared Venerable, and a striking miracle occurs which is ratified by the doctors as utterly beyond natural causes. The answer to prayer has come rapidly. Another person prays for a healing, asking the intercession of a different person declared Venerable whose Cause is also proceeding. But no answer comes immediately. The prayers must be kept up for a long time, in faith and hope. Why is God doing things in this complicated and seemingly unnecessary way? We do not know — but we are reminded of the roundabout course our Lord mysteriously followed in today’s Gospel healing. Such are the ways of God. Such is the divine will, and God must know best. Ours it is to submit to his will. Our Gospel passage then presents us with another detail of this order. Having healed the deaf and almost dumb man, our Lord told his friends “not to tell anyone.” The Greek indicates a command, a charge. Why did he do this? After all, on various occasions, even with his disciples and certainly with the religious leaders, he would appeal to the works he was doing as a witness to the truth of his claims. Of course, we can easily conjecture as to the reason for his prohibition, and various scholars give their suggestions. But the reason is not given in the text, and perhaps our Lord himself did not give his reasons to his disciples nor to anyone else. The fact is that it was not necessary to know our Lord's reasons. Presumably, though, our Lord's reasons were important and were part and parcel of God's plan of salvation. But what happened? His insistent order was ignored. "But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it." They did precisely the opposite of what our Lord willed.

God has his ways. Such is the divine will, and God must know best. It is not necessary that we see the reason why God does what he does, but what is most necessary is obedience to his will. We must be very careful to do God's will in seemingly unimportant things. If it be God's will, no matter how small the issue, our disobedience will be an offence against God, and our obedience will be pleasing to him. We must assume that the attainment of God’s plan for us and for others will depend on our obeying God in the small details of life. In any case, it is God who asks it.

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