|Memorial - Saint Blaise, bishop
Psalm 31:20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.
Have you ever asked yourself if others would understand the activities you were doing? Many Catholics celebrate the feast of St. Blaise by having our throats blessed as candles are held up against them. Last year during the throat blessing I caught myself asking, “I wonder what non-Catholics would think about this ritual?” I have been getting my throat blessed each year for as long as I can remember, but the ritual strikes me as a little odd. Some questions that come to mind are “why not bless other parts of the body and why use candles?” The reasons for Saint Blaise’s patronage of throats is that he reportedly revived a boy who choked to death on a fishbone. The candles used during the blessing are derived from the candles brought to Blaise in prison, but I wonder if the candles are used because they were just blessed the day before for Candlemas, what most know as the Feast of the Presentation. There are other rituals that we Catholics practice that may appear odd or difficult to understand from an outside view, like receiving ashes on our forehead and lighting candles. Although some of these practices may seem a bit strange to a non-Catholic, they help remind us of important aspects of our faith and Catholic heritage. They also serve in bringing people to a closer and more meaningful relationship with God and their church community.
Today’s psalm response is being lived out in the many rituals that we do. The response, “Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord,” speaks about our desire to be closer to God and to experience the peace that God gives us. Getting your throat blessed does give believers a sense of comfort as it renews our hope in God’s guiding presence. The intellectual side of me wants to dismiss such rituals as silliness and explain it as immature faith, but the more intuitive side of me points to the suffering woman (Mark 5:25-34) who knew she would be healed if she could just touch Jesus’ cloak. In that story Jesus does heal her because of her faith. The faith of the woman seems somewhat superstitious, yet she is rewarded for having such faith.
The scene in today’s gospel also seems far-fetched. The gospel reports the story of Jesus driving the demons out of a possessed man and allowing them to reside in a herd of swine who then run and drown in the sea. Doesn’t this sound like a scene from a horror movie? Yet there it is in Mark’s gospel. Maybe, Jesus and the gospel writer are inviting us to suspend our need to explain things logically so that we can experience God more intimately through our faith. When discussing these kinds of miraculous happenings with friends and colleagues, I concede that God’s power and workings surely are a mystery. It may seem like an easy out, but I believe we humans have such a limited understanding of the spirit world.
So what can we take away from today’s readings and feast? I
believe that God does want us to take comfort and hope in the Lord. The
Church helps us to do that in many ways, but one that we may experience
today is through the blessings of our throats. I pray that today’s
feast, readings and this reflection helps us to realize the many ways the
Church provides for us to experience God’s mysterious loving presence.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook