Odilia and Lucy share a feast day and a patronage.
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book;
And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.
The lowly will ever find joy in the Lord,
and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19
In reflecting on the light of the Lord that illumines darkened hearts, Quaker writer Isaac Pennington wrote, “But of what nature is this light, which shineth in man in his dark state? It is of a living nature; it is light which flows from life; it is light which hath life in it; it is the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Word eternal, which is the light of men.”
Pennington recognized that it is only the Light of the World who can drive away the darkness of sin and death, which seeks to cover the earth with its “heavy pall.” Ultimately, Pennington is echoing the faith and hope of the great prophets — like Isaiah – who understood that only the coming of the Promised One would bring light where there was once darkness and open up that which was once closed. The wonders and signs of Jesus that we read about in the Gospel are a confirmation that it was he of whom the prophets spoke.
The gift of spiritual sight, unobscured by sin, despair, and doubt, is truly a grace and allows the Christian to view the world with the eyes of faith. It is grace that allows us to recognize the ways Christ comes into our dark world: when we encounter the Word of God in Scripture, in the Eucharist, when we gather together in prayer, and in the poor, the sick, and the hungry.
Years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a week in a small town near Strasbourg, France. During those days in Molsheim, I had the opportunity to visit the shrine of the patron saint of the Alsace region: Saint Odilia. Her shrine, located within an ancient monastery high on a mountain, has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and was visited by emperors and kings, including Charlemagne, as well as popes, and saints; St. John Paul II visited the shrine of Saint Odilia in 1988.
Saint Odilia knew the true value of the gift of sight—both physical and spiritual sight.
Born near the end of the 7th century, she was blind from birth. Her father, Adalric, was angered by both her gender (he wanted a son who would inherit his title and holdings) and her physical limitation. Because of this, he refused to recognize the baby as his child and ordered that she be kept out of sight. He also refused to give her a name. The baby’s mother eventually entrusted her to the care of an aunt, the abbess of a local monastery.
Years later, inspired by a dream, St. Erhard of Regensburg traveled to the monastery where the child was living, so that he could baptize her. After the baptism, Erhard anointed her head and then touched her eyes with the sacred chrism, saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ, may the eyes of your body and the eyes of your soul receive light.” The girl became able to see and she was finally given a name: Odilia, which means “daughter of light.” In time, Odilia was reconciled with her father and mother and she prayed for them for the rest of her life.
Her father eventually gave his castle, Hohenberg, to Odilia. There, she established a community of nuns dedicated to a strict life of prayer and penance, as well as the care of the hungry, sick, and disabled. Later, Odilia founded a second convent that included a hostel for pilgrims, serving the poor with her own hands. She died on December 13, 720. Today, St. Odilia, along with St. Lucy (whose feast day she shares), is honored as a patron of the blind.
Advent is a season of darkness, a time of watching and waiting for the coming of the Light of the World. It is faith which enables us to recognize that God’s Providence is at work, even though events in our world and our individual lives may make us feel that there is only darkness around us. The faith and hope of the saints — like the once-blind St. Odilia — remind us that if our faith is strong, we will never be disappointed in our waiting (cf. Psalm 27:13-14): “Behold, our Lord shall come with power; he will enlighten the eyes of his servants” (Advent Alleluia Verse).
In these Advent days, pray for the faith to believe in the Light.
Words of Wisdom: “We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good. This is what the saints did, those who, as ‘God’s fellow workers,’ contributed to the world’s salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future.” –Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi