[caption id="attachment_171504" align="aligncenter" width="1180"] Image: Pixabay.com (2015), CC0/PD[/caption]
Imagine being shut up in your living quarters, away from all visitors, unable to attend any social events or go anywhere! Oh, wait, we don’t have to imagine it. We have been through that scenario, and many of us are still. Well, that gives us something in common with Saint Barbara.
The story of this Rapunzel-like saint comes to us by word of mouth, and legends have grown up around the virgin-martyr. Still, no matter what version you hear, there are aspects of her story that stay the same.
The only daughter of a rich, influential pagan, Barbara was extremely beautiful. Her father, Dioscorus, locked her in a tower for her own protection. (Kind of sound familiar?) Whether it was to protect his beautiful daughter from suitors or to keep Barbara, who had a kind heart bent towards helping the poor, from the new Christian religion that was spreading into the region is not clear. Perhaps both reasons played a part in Dioscorus’ decision. In any case, we know that while sequestered in her tower, Barbara looked out over the verdant, rolling hills and the fruitful land and gazed at the seemingly endless night sky. She began to contemplate the Creator of such awesome creations. In her heart, she rejected that anything so wondrous and bounteous could be made by the idols she grew up worshipping. Her ponderings and search for truth was a prayer within itself – one God was happy to answer.
The exact details on how Barbara became a Christian vary somewhat. Yet it seems certain that a priest sent by Origen of Alexandria came to her in disguise, some say as a merchant, some say as a doctor. This priest was able to secretly catechize and baptize the inquisitive maiden.
[caption id="attachment_171506" align="aligncenter" width="1104"] Image by Lawrence, OP (2007), Flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0[/caption]
Here is something we can learn from Saint Barbara. When our lives are made to slow down and we have time that we didn’t have before, what are we doing with those extra moments? Are we taking advantage of this occasion to be with our Lord? Prayer and contemplation give us peace even in difficult times, open our eyes to the goodness that surrounds us, and endow us with confidence in His Divine Providence. Solitude can bring us closer to God.
When her father learned of her conversion, he turned her over to the proconsul Marcian, for Christianity was an outlawed religion. In an attempt to shame her, the virgin was marched through the city naked, but an angel came and covered her in a robe of fog. To torture her, rakes and hooks were dragged over her body, so the Divine Physician visited her and healed her injuries. Finally, when the torches that were meant to burn her went out, her own father picked up a sword and beheaded her. Dioscorus was then struck by lightning and killed. Thus, Saint Barbara is invoked for protection from lightning strikes and from a sudden death. She is also the patron saint of artillerymen.
Saint Barbara is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. These early Christian saints, most of whom are martyrs, were called upon during the Black Plague which ravished Europe from 1346-1349. The plague caused blackened tongues, parched throats, violent headaches, high fevers, and painful boils on the abdomen. Those infected with the plague would ask through Saint Barbara’s intercession that the sacraments of the dying not be denied them. Other intercessors in this group include Saint Blaise for ailments of the throat, Saint Denis for healing of headaches, and Saint Christopher for protection against the plague. The Communion of Saints is a great aid to us during times of trials and anxiety.
Indeed, times are difficult right now. A microscopic virus is causing illness, sorrow, depression, and death. Masked, we view each other with suspicion, wondering who among us is asymptomatic. We are confused, frustrated, scared, and exhausted. One moment we are confident in God’s Divine Protection and Providence; the next moment we fall to our knees and cry. Without the sacraments, we feel weakened and empty.
Yet, we have heavenly friends who can sympathize. Saint Barbara knows what it is like to be placed under a stay-at-home order. She’s been there, done that! And she made the best of it. Through her intercession, may we, too, use this time to grow closer to God.
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Lord, Creator of all, You are in control. Be with us during this pandemic. Empower us to offer up our sufferings joyfully. Quiet us so we can receive healing from You, the Divine Physician. Give us the grace to emerge from our homes stronger in faith. Saint Barbara, pray for us. Amen.
Copyright 2020 Kelly Guest
About the Author
God has given Kelly lots of wonderful opportunities to follow Him. She was a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia in Nashville, an education coordinator for a Catholic Charities' program for pregnant teens, a middle school teacher, a director of religious education and is now a youth minister. Her most challenging and rewarding calling, though, is wife and mother of ten children. What she has learned, she blogs at CatholicMom.com. Kelly's book, Saintly Moms: 25 Stories of Holiness, is due out October 2021.