Difficult to come by in my tiny landlocked Midwest town, and not within the grocery budget when it was, fresh fish was not often on the menu when I was a young girl. Instead Friday dinners alternated between tuna casseroles and macaroni and cheese. My mother, raised on the East Coast, missed fresh fish, and she couldn’t figure out why I didn’t share her enthusiasm when it made a rare appearance on our table. For this, I blame St. Blaise.
My childhood memories of the feast of St. Blaise are ones of damp wool and beeswax, of a warmly lit church and cold dark winds that sullenly shook the windows, hoping to find a way in. But it was the story of the fishbone that really stuck.
Little is known of St. Blaise’s life; he was perhaps the bishop of Sebaste in the fourth century who died a martyr for the faith. The story of St. Blaise that captured my imagination was of a mother who brought her son to the bishop with a fish bone stuck in his throat. St. Blaise prayed and the young boy was healed.
When I was 5 years old, the principal message of the story of St. Blaise (alas) seemed to be, “watch out for bones when you eat fish.” Almost five decades later, it reminds me that the stories we tell of the saints and blesseds have an enduring power to them, a way of engaging our imaginations. St. Augustine wrote that we remember the particular deeds of the saints and martyrs “to excite us to imitate them and to obtain a share in their merits, and the assistance of their prayers.”
St. Augustine’s commentary challenges me to think beyond the assistance that St. Blaise may offer me or what merits he might be inclined to share with me, and to wonder in what way a suburban mother of teenagers might be moved to imitate a fourth-century bishop. What is there in St. Blaise’s life that could excite me to similar feats of virtue?
In the many miracle tales told of St. Blaise, from the healing of the young boy to the return of a widow’s stolen pig, he looks for help from God, not only for the situation in front of him, but for the broader world. His prayers were always simultaneously for the here and now and the people of God in difficulties in every place and time. I’m quick to pray for the safety of my children each night, but do I remember to pray for other mothers’ children? In asking for healing for my father, do I think to pray for the elderly who suffer with chronic pain?
I still get my throat blessed each Feb. 3rd. No longer terrified of choking on a fish bone — hoping that St. Blaise would notice the prayers of one small girl in a town far away in time and space — I find now in the crossed candles and Triune blessing more than an assurance that God is concerned with our worries (even if they are as irrational as mine over stray fish bones). God’s grace spills over, reaching beyond the needs of one to all His people until the end of time.
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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