Today is the Feast day of St. Martha, who is surprisingly also referred to as "St. Martha the Dragonslayer." Curious? Father Steve's homily for Mass today tells the story and provides us with a powerful spiritual lesson.
There are some legendary stories of saints that deserve telling and re-telling, and the story of St. Martha the Dragonslayer is one of them.
Am I speaking about the same Martha of the New Testament? The one who is depicted as a domestic scold who thinks that she knows better than the Lord Jesus himself what his will for others should be? The Martha who gets a famous comeuppance from the Lord that is meant to shock her out of her anxious fretting and self pre-occupation? The same Martha who is overcome with grief at the death of Lazarus, a grief that gives way to a startling profession of faith in Christ as Lord? This Martha was a dragonslayer?
Exiled during a time of persecution of the Church, Martha's wanderings brought her to a village plagued by a dragon who had a voracious appetite for the town's inhabitants. The villages told Martha that they would believe in the Gospel on the condition that the power of Christ could rid them of the dragon. She accepted this challenge. Martha went out, found the dragon's lair, subdued it with the sign of the cross, brought it back to the village on a leash, and then called for a sword. No more dragon!
Is this true? Did it really happen? Perhaps... Maybe... One day we will all have to ask Martha...
Of course, even if the dragon is not literally real, the story remains important.
The dragon may be a metaphor, a representation of the hostile pagan world that so vexed the early Church. St. Martha, in this respect, represents the Church that boldly and defiantly challenged the dark powers of fallen gods. Also, we can understand the dragon as a metaphor for all that is dark within ourselves, that dark power that consumes our goodness and life and makes us lose hope and succomb to fear. Martha, Christ-like in her sanctity is our friend and intercessor as we confront the dark powers within.
She conquers, as we are called to, in the Lord Jesus who strengthens us.
There is one more truth that we might attend to in regards to St. Martha the dragonslayer.
It has become far too easy to reduce our faith to something domestic, familiar, predictable. But discipleship is an adventure that demands more of us than just cocktails and garden parties. Christ did not establish the Church to be a faith based country club.
St. Martha found her mission by moving out from that domestic space that had become the controlling influence of her life. Her faith in the Lord took her out into a world not of her own making, a world that would not bend to her will. Her mission exposed her to danger, difficulty and risk.
And so may St. Martha the dragonslayer intercede for us, inspire us to take great risks for the faith, and through the power of Christ, help us to confront the dragons of sin that lurk within ourselves and in our world.
Father Steve is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.