Saturday, November 25, 2017

November 25 - Catherine of Alexandria, Martyr, Evangelist, Contagious

Catherine's father was the governor of Alexandria so emperor Maxentius felt pressure to accept Catherine into his presence and company. Of course, he wasn't forced to do anything--he was the emperor--but he knew that it would be wise to pick his battles prudently and spend some time with Catherine if she wanted it. After all, he had a little extra time to entertain guests of influence and importance. Yet, as their meal dragged on, the Maxentius came to regret his agreement more and more. She wouldn't stop bringing up the cause of those cursed Christians. For some reason, this noble born woman of influential blood seemed to have a soft heart for Christians who he thought of as atheist, cannibalistic, crypt-dwelling scavengers.

Catherine insisted that the ethic that governed all of the Christian activities was one of love and mercy. This grated sharply across Maxentius and his nose wrinkled in disgust at the idea. How could sacrificial love and merciful forgiveness accomplish conquest and change? Surely, this was some idealistic fantasy and nothing more. When Catherine asked again if Maxentius would cease the persecution and execution of Christians, he flatly refused. He turned to his wife to share with her in a conspiratorial life and found tears in her eyes. "What have you done?" he asked Catherine as his rage began to bubble up in him.

"I've done nothing, Maxentius," Catherine responded, "but it seems that my Lord Jesus has found fertile soil in the heart of your wife. Will you not open your heart to him, as well?" In rage, Maxentius cast his cup aside and backed away from the table. If all of this was true then Maxentius was determined to punish Catherine and his own wife if need be. He called for his advisers and ordered them to dispute with her and prove her wrong. Seeing only a woman as their opponent, they confidently started arguing with her but found that she was surprisingly convincing. Within a few hours, they were converting to the faith she had--a faith that love could conquer death and sin and that mercy was more powerful than vengeance--and rejoicing with each other in their new found life.

As his advisers wondered aloud with each other how they could have been so blind, Maxentius fumed and gawked at what was going on. It was as if Catherine--who he now understood to be one of these Christians she defended--was contagious and her story was spreading quickly to those around her. Calling to his guards and hoping they hadn't been infected yet, he ordered the whole group--Catherine, his wife, and his advisers--arrested. They were thrown into prison and Maxentius hoped that this was enough to stop the spread of Catherine's faith.When people came to visit her they came away converted,however, and were imprisoned with them. When his cells were filling up he had the group brought before him again and had his own wife and advisers killed first while Catherine watched.Expecting that the crowd would shrink in fear and beg for their lives, he was surprised to see them laughing, clapping, and singing songs. It seemed that everything he did was playing into their hands. He had the rest of them killed--all except for Catherine. Catherine offered prayers of thanksgiving loudly with each cut of the blade and soon found herself condemned to die in a brutal, public and painful way--the breaking wheel--because of her refusal to be broken before Maxentius' will.

As they drug her to the public place, the crowd fell silent as they looked upon the condemned. She was marked for a gruesome death. The breaking wheel was a torturous way of dying that involved being tied to a wooden wheel with radial spokes. The soldiers would beat the condemned and apply pressure to the bones of the victim until they cracked and popped under the blows from the hammers. The gaps in the spokes allowed the bones to be broken in loud, agonizing, and mutilating fashion. Catherine seemed unfazed as they carried her to the wheel and the guards were frightened by her calm. When they laid her back on the wheel, the wheel broke as it came into contact with her skin. What resolve had remained now dissolved as they thought that surely this one was different from the others they had tortured and killed. The crowd murmured and to stem the possibility of yet another revival, Maxentius ordered her beheaded quickly before her contagion could spread to the crowd and guards.

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