Though we know little about St. Blaise, the stories about him all agree on a few facts. He lived in the 4th century during the last of the major persecutions levied against Christianity. He was bishop of Sebastia, in Armenia, and died as a martyr. He was known for his kindness, which was not only directed to people. Evidently, there was a time in his life when he hid in a cave in order to escape persecution. It is written that he co-existed peacefully with wild animals in the cave and that he healed the animals of whatever ailed them. However, the story for which he is most remembered is that at some point during his ministry he healed a boy who was choking on a fishbone. In one version of the story, the bone which was stuck in the boy’s throat dissolved. Later, while imprisoned before his martyrdom, Blaise was visited by a woman who brought him candles to dispel the darkness. Somewhere along the line, the two stories intersected and the ritual began in which a priest uses two blessed candles to place on the throats of the faithful, praying for protection from all diseases or illnesses of the throat.
In order to find the truth in stories of St. Blaise, let us look to the Gospels. In one passage the Pharisees were accusing the disciples of picking grain on a Sabbath and popping it in their mouths to eat. Worse still, according to the authorities, Jesus’ followers were not purifying their hands properly before eating. Jesus responded by saying, “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one…. But things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (Matthew 15:11; 17-20) This passage reminds us that what is in our hearts is that which is clean or unclean. Perhaps, therein lays the hidden wealth in remembering St. Blaise for healing of throats. Could it be that we should reflect about what emanates from our throat, or in other words, what comes out of our mouths? Perhaps we are in need of healing for what we have said, or for what “gets stuck in our throat” which we ought to have said, but didn’t!
Therefore let us look to what St. Blaise and the blessing of throats offers. First is that praying for health for our throats is a way of showing our trust in the blessings and gifts of God. It should be taken seriously since the Church obviously would not offer this if it was merely legend, as if to say, “Let’s play it safe with an action that certainly can’t hurt, so what the heck?” The Church does not act this way. Rather it teaches the truth that healing and new life are offered through the sacraments which were instituted by Christ and are part of our core beliefs. Second, what we say with our words has great power no matter who it is directed at, even if it is something we say only to ourselves. Words reflect our attitudes; that is, they reflect what is in our hearts. Often we try to rationalize our actions (or lack of action) by talking ourselves into believing something that we know deep down inside is not true. It may be an attempt to feel less guilty, perhaps about something we should not have done, or about an attitude we hold which is unhealthy. We can also let words come forth from our throats which are hurtful, full of gossip, conjecture, or assumption. We can speak words that are meant to hurt, becoming defensive or offensive, not caring about the damage they might do to the other. We can tell that ‘little white lie’ which we think really doesn’t hurt anyone, but which is perilous, because lying can become habitual. And who of us has not said something we vehemently wish that we could take back a nanosecond after it emerged from our mouths?
May our throats be preserved from all harm, both physically and from that which might come from within! May our words be blessed by the goodness and mercy of God, that we might speak light and life! May we have the courage to speak when it is necessary, and the wisdom to be silent when we need to listen! May we encourage and help empower those who have not yet found their voice to do so! And may we let the Word of God be a blessing which heals and enlightens us, giving us the grace to speak the Gospel with our every word and deed. Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is a painting called The Arrest and Miracles of St. Blaise by a 14th century painter, Allegretto Nuzi.
The photo is one of mine. It was taken on the coast of Ireland.
Next is an inset from Christ Accused by Pharisees painted by Duccio di Buoninsegna.
Next is The Holy Spirit The Lord the Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html