St. Agatha (Virgin and Martyr) – Feast Day, February 5
According to pious tradition and legend, St. Agatha was born in Sicily about the year 230 in a wealthy, noble family. She was martyred at the age of 21 in the city of Catania on February 5th, which is now celebrated as her feast day. When the Roman emperor Decius issued a decree persecuting Christians, the governor of Sicily, who had long harbored lustful feelings for the beautiful Agatha, tried to force his attentions on her and desired to obtain her inheritance. He used the opportunity to bring her to trial for being a Christian and force her to renounce her faith. The consul then tried to break Agatha's vow of chastity by placing her in a brothel for a month. All efforts to corrupt Agatha failed.
The consul then ordered that she be beaten and that her breasts be crushed and cut off. The traditional image of St. Agatha shows her holding her severed breasts on a platter. Afterward, Agatha was consigned to prison where Saint Peter appeared to her in a dazzling light and healed her wounds. At finding her cured the next day the consul asked her: "Who has cured you?" To which she replied: "I was cured through the power of Jesus Christ". The consul screamed in rage: "How dare you speak the name of Jesus, when you know it is forbidden?"
Then the consul ordered that her body be dragged over a field of broken shards and burning coals. During this final torture Agatha gave thanks to God for the strength to preserve her virginity, uphold her faith, and defy her persecutors by saying: "Oh my Lord and Creator, I give You thanks for having protected me from the cradle. I give You thanks for having guided me away from what is evil, lustful and worldly. I give You thanks for the strength to support my sufferings. And now into your awaiting arms I commend my spirit." Having said this she died, it was the 5th of February of the year 251. Her name has been retained in the Roman Canon of the Mass in the First Eucharistic Prayer.
Agatha means "good" or "virtuous". St. Agatha is the patroness of nurses, of women suffering from breast cancer, and of firemen.
Prayer to Saint Agatha: [Mention intention] O Heavenly Father, who raised Agatha to the dignity of Sainthood, we implore Your Divine Majesty by her intercession to give us health of mind, body and soul. Free us from all those things which hold us bound to this earth, and let our spirit, like hers, rise to your heavenly courts. Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You, forever. Amen.
St. James the Greater (Apostle and Martyr) – Feast Day, July 25
In an address at St Peter’s, Pope Benedict XVI described St James as follows: “James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life….James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus' Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus' Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord's glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendor shining out in Jesus. On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honor and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ's glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.
“This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, "laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword" (Acts 12: 1-2). The brevity of the news, devoid of any narrative detail, reveals on the one hand how normal it was for Christians to witness to the Lord with their own lives, and on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, partly because of the role he played during Jesus' earthly existence.
“A later tradition, dating back at least to Isidore of Seville, speaks of a visit he made to Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, it was his body instead that had been taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela. As we all know, that place became the object of great veneration and is still the destination of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe but from the whole world. This explains the iconographical representation of St James with the pilgrim's staff and the scroll of the Gospel in hand, typical features of the travelling Apostle dedicated to the proclamation of the "Good News" and characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life.
St. James is the patron saint of laborers and of many countries, including Spain and Chile. The scallop shell is the traditional emblem of James, son of Zebedee and has long been the badge of pilgrims on the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Prayer to Saint James the Apostle: O glorious Apostle, St. James, who by reason of thy fervent and generous heart wast chosen by Jesus to be a witness of His glory on Mount Tabor, and His agony at Gethsemane; thou, whose very name is a symbol of warfare of this life and victory: obtain for us strength and consolation in the unending warfare of this life, that, having constantly and generously followed Jesus, we may be victors in the strife and deserve to receive the victor's crown in Heaven. Amen.