Thursday, July 17, 2008
Hey Sister, my sister and I are getting our wisdom teeth out next month. Since it's your favorite hobby, do you think you could find a patron saint for teeth?
Are you getting all of them at once? Not that it matters for the patron saint thing. I had all my wisdom teeth out at once because the dentist said, "Why go through that twice?"
Here's why: Getting them out a few at a time is much easier to deal with. Just ask the patron saint for whom you search, St. Apollonia.
At any rate, during a big persecution in the third century, the heathens went crazy dragging people from their houses and the like, and the powers that be just let it all go on. St Apollonia was dragged from her house and told to renounce her Christian faith, or pray to pagan gods...something along those lines. When she refused, the heathens broke out all her teeth. She makes for a great gruesome holy card on a par with St. Bartholomew and St. Sebastian or the leg surgery of St. Cosmos and Damian.
So there you go. Unlike a lot of virgin martyr stories, this has historical documentation in the form of a letter by Dionysius. He wrote a letter to the bishop or the governor or somebody and told the story of poor old Apollonia. Somehow Apollonia has become one of those young virgin martyrs of the St. Agnes, St. Lucy, St. Wilgefortis ilk. She was indeed a virgin martyr, but she was an old gal.
It doesn't end there. We haven't covered the martyr part. That's good news for you, since she didn't die from having all of her teeth removed and neither will you or you sister. You're only having four teeth removed, anyhow, and in a comfy chair while either you or your teeth are asleep.
After the tooth torture failed to cause St. Apollonia to renege on Jesus, the heathens dragged her over to a fire and threatened to throw her in. St. Apollonia actually tricked them into loosening their grip on her. I think she must have said something like, "Oh all right, let me go and I'll renounce whatever you want..." When they let her go, she skipped off into the fire. Hence the martyr part.
The larger question here is, how is this not suicide? There were lots of virgin martyrs who jumped into fires and off of bridges and such to save their chastity. So the first answer is, 'there's safety in numbers'. It seems to have been an accepted way of saving yourself from sin at the time.
Secondly, we can't judge what was going on with St. Apollonia, just as we can't judge anyone who commits suicide. She may have been off her rocker from having all her teeth pulled. God may have told her to skip into the fire. We don't know.
She's a saint in heaven, the end. She certainly exhibited the number one reason for sainthood: heroic virtue. I think it's much harder to be heroically virtuous when you are old and tired and have just had all your teeth smashed and pulled out than it is when you are young and full of vim and feel like you really might make in difference in the world.
You can ask Mother Teresa about that, she of the 'dark knight of the soul'. She did it anyway. It must have been much harder to do it "anyway" old than when she was young and had Jesus whispering in her ear.
You know what frustrates me? I can easily get my hands on a medal of St. Philomena or St. Christopher who have been knocked off the calendar of saints and I can't get a hold of a medal of this very useful saint who is historically documented. What's up with that? You and your sister and I will have to offer up our sufferings for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Although I have a feeling that your offerings are going to trump mine this time around.