03 February 2011

A-BLASE!

Memorial of St. Blasé, Bishop and Martyr

Mk 16:15-20


We celebrate today the blessed memory of St. Blase, and we celebrate it not only with a feast day, but with a unique ceremony that seems to parallel the practice of anointing the sick. In Masses today blessing of throats are given to those who wish to receive it. The blessing is performed with two white candles that were blessed yesterday, the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation. The white color of the candles symbolizes purity. Often, a red ribbon is draped over the base of the candles. The red drape or ribbon symbolizes the martyrdom of St. Blasé. The two candles are grasped in an X-shape and held up to the throat of the person receiving the blessing, as the priest prays the formula: “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." And the person receiving the blessing answers, “Amen.”


Who is St. Blasé? Why is he venerated as patron against throat ailments?


Blasé was born to a wealthy and noble Christian family in the 4th century. He was a physician before he became a bishop at a young age in Sebaste in Armenia. His rather early elevation into the Order of Bishops is attributed to his outstanding holiness and leadership qualities even as Christians were then persecuted.


During the persecution of Emperor Licinius, Blasé lived as a hermit in a cave where wild animals kept him company. It is said that he even healed those who were sick and wounded among them. There is an account that says that Blasé encountered a woman whose pig was caught by a wolf. Blasé commanded the wolf to release the pig, and, indeed, the wolf freed the pig unhurt. But one day, a group of men who were hunting wild beasts discovered Blasé and seized him. As Christianity was outlawed during his time, Blasé was brought to Agricolaus, governor of Cappadocia and Lesser Armenia.


The woman whose pig Blasé saved from the jaws of a wolf brought him candles so that his prison cell would have some light and he could read the Sacred Scriptures. It was also during then that Blasé, using two of the candles given him by the woman whose pig he saved, miraculously cured a small boy who was choking to death on a fishbone lodged in his throat. Grasping the two candles to form an X-shape, Blasé held them up to the throat of the child and prayed for the boy’s deliverance. The fishbone dislodged by itself and the boy was saved from imminent death.


Eventually, Agricolaus the Governor condemned Blasé because the latter refused to deny his faith in Jesus Christ. He was tortured with the iron comb. An iron comb is an instrument used for combing wool. The skin of Blasé was scrapped with this iron comb and shredded into pieces. This is the reason why Blasé is also invoked as patron of those engaged in the wool-industry. Finally, he was beheaded.


Today, on his feastday, we ask the intercession of St. Blasé not only for deliverance from any throat ailments and other physical illness but also from all that compromises our love for Jesus. We are all called to be martyrs. For some, martyrdom comes as the shedding of blood for the Faith. But for all of us, martyrdom always takes the form of living out day-to-day fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to Jesus Christ Himself and the Church for whom He was first to have shed blood.


Martyrdom is not about dying. It is about living. The Greek word martyrion means witness. A martyr is a witness. And witnessing does not only happen in death. In fact, it happens even before dying for the Faith.


Let us love Jesus in life and in death. Let us live the Faith before we die for it. May the fire of the Spirit of Jesus keep burning in our hearts and set the world ablaze…a-BLASÉ!

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