Friday, May 23, 2014

St. Julia of Corsica - A Saint For Our Times

     Today is not a major feast day in the Church's liturgical calendar but, as always, there are saints whose feasts are celebrated.  One of the more interesting of today's saints is St. Julia of Corsica (also known as St. Julia of Carthage).  There is an account below taken from Butler's Lives of the Saints, with my commentary afterward:

St. Julia of Corsica
St. Julia was a noble virgin of Carthage, who, when the city was taken by Genseric in 489 [sic -  Carthage was actually captured by Genseric and the Vandals in 439], was sold for a slave to a pagan merchant of Syria named Eusebius. Under the most mortifying employments of her station, by cheerfulness and patience she found a happiness and comfort which the world could not have afforded.
      All the time she was not employed in her master's business was devoted to prayer and reading books of piety. Her master, who was charmed with her fidelity and other virtues, carried her with him on one of his voyages to Gaul. Having reached the northern part of Corsica, he cast anchor, and went on shore to join the pagans of the place in an idolatrous festival. Julia was left at some distance, because she would not be defiled by the superstitious ceremonies which she openly reviled.
     Felix, the governor of the island, who was a bigoted pagan, asked who this woman was who dared to insult the gods. Eusebius informed him that she was a Christian, and that all his authority over her was too weak to prevail with her to renounce her religion, but that he found her so diligent and faithful he could not part with her. The governor offered him four of his best female slaves in exchange for her. But the merchant replied, "No; all you are worth will not purchase her; for I would freely lose the most valuable thing I have in the world rather than be deprived of her." However, the governor, while Eusebius was drunk and asleep, took upon him to compel her to sacrifice to his gods. He offered to procure her liberty if she would comply. The Saint made answer that she was as free as she desired to be as long as she was allowed to serve Jesus Christ. Felix, thinking himself derided by her undaunted and resolute air, in a transport of rage caused her to be struck on the face, and the hair of head to be torn off, and lastly, ordered her to be hanged on a cross till she expired. Certain monks of the isle of Gorgon carried off her body; but in 768 Desiderius, King Of Lombardy, removed her relics to Brescia, where her memory is celebrated with great devotion.

     A few points stand out from the account of St. Julia’s life.  First and foremost, her devotion to Christ and her courage in the face of unspeakable suffering is an inspiration to us.  Maybe, the next time I’m tempted to “go along with the crowd” simply because I’m afraid of the disapproval or verbal abuse of others, I’ll take some strength from Julia’s fortitude in the face of much, much worse persecution.
     Julia also shows us the power of example.  Clearly, her character and virtue made a large impression on her master Eusebius. While her diligence and fidelity alone were not enough to win him over to the faith, at least not right away, they did give him the courage to stand up to the governor Felix, and convince him not to give her up for, literally, any price.  None of the accounts I have seen, unfortunately, tell us anything about what eventually happened to Eusebius.  One wonders whether the example of her heroic martyrdom was finally enough to make him a Christian.  We do know that the witness of the martyrs was crucial to the conversion of very many people, for which reason Tertullian said: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."
     Julia's story also tells us something about the nature of sin.  I am reminded yet again of Father Richard John Neuhaus’ aphorism:  “When orthodoxy becomes optional, sooner or later it will become proscribed”.  What he meant was that simply by doing the right thing one is seen as a rebuke to those who are not doing right.  Look at Julia: she wasn’t interfering with the pagan festival, she was simply staying away.  The governor, however, couldn’t tolerate anyone who was not actively endorsing his activities.  How often we have seen this same attitude today.  Granted, at least in the United States, nobody is literally being crucified, although the advocates of a “New Orthodoxy” will certainly try to destroy the reputation and livelihood of anyone who does not publicly cheer for their innovations.  The most recent example is that of the Benham Brothers, whose planned home improvement program on the HGTV network was cancelled [see here] because the brothers, who are evangelical Christians, publicly oppose abortion and gay marriage.  It appears that the activists who intimidated HGTV also successfully pressured the bank with whom the Benhams have worked for years to sever ties – at least until the counter-reaction from Christians and others concerned with the erosion of personal freedom caused them to reconsider.  The bank now claims that the whole thing was simply a misunderstanding [here].
     But sin's not the end of the story, either.  We have seen throughout the history of the Church the truth of the aphorism, "The bigger they come, the harder they fall"; zealous persecutors from St. Paul himself to the Nazi death-camp guards who were awed by the martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe have been converted, often by witnessing the faith and Christ-like serenity of their victims.  The ancient accounts don't tell us, but the governor Felix might well have been one of these.  Whether or not he himself was moved in this way, we can be sure that many of the other pagan witnesses were.  
     Finally, the example of St. Julia of Corsica has continued to inspire people through the centuries and is still with us to this day as a reminder that, although there there will always be defeats along the way, Christ wins in the end.  If we can put our faith in that, as Julia did, we can persevere. As St. Peter said: " Rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 13).