He took the child by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!"
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded.
On this Memorial of Saint Agatha, whose story is recounted in brutal detail in the Catholic Online Library, our readings remind us of "the cloud of witnesses" who accompany us, and of Jesus great compassion for women.
Saint Agatha must remind us of our current obsession with sex and the widespread belief that our freedom, pleasure and satisfaction can only be fulfilled sexually. This belief threatens many people -- especially women and girls but also boys and young men -- with harassment, exploitation and violent abuse. Believing that they must have "sex" to satisfy their desires, and even that they deserve and are entitled to such pleasure, some individuals demand that others satisfy their cravings.
We might suppose these predators are criminals and lunatics; we might strive to confine them in prisons and asylums; but, in so doing, we must fail to recognize they are us. They represent the extremities of an obsessive bell curve which runs through every level of society. The counselor who believes her client suffers from sexual frustration, the office worker who thinks his coworker needs special attention, the stand-up comedienne whose repertoire comprises sophomoric jokes about sexual matters: all promote the same warped misunderstanding of human life and our insatiable desire for God.
Our God is a jealous god who will not abide false gods; he punishes idolatry. How else can we interpret the plagues of sexual violence, drug abuse, racism and suicide? Some might suppose these are simply the consequences of poor judgement, as if there is a mechanistic karma that must come around to punish the wicked. But I would rather hope that our merciful God is leading us back to a corral of sanity as a shepherd directs his flock with relentless sheep dogs.
Christians have a cloud of witnesses to direct our attention back to the Lord. Catholics especially, with our innumerable saints, their feasts and memorials, are daily fed and refreshed by their companionship.
Christians remember the mercy of Jesus who, in today's gospel, risked mockery to reassure the healed woman and revive the dead child. This man would not take advantage of the woman's weakness or the child's helplessness to satisfy any purpose of his own except that of his mission -- which was to heal. We see his infinite gentleness as he stopped to speak to the elderly woman despite the shoving, hustling crowd all around him. We must notice his gentleness as he spoke to the child, taking her hand and calling her by a pet name. Even as her parents were paralyzed with astonishment he told them to "Give her something to eat!"
Freedom is a jealous god. Although we have appetites that are physical, intellectual, psychological and sexual, freedom will not permit us to focus only on our cravings, no matter how desperate they might be. Saint Agatha teaches us that even the fear of humiliation, suffering and death cannot deter God's chosen from seeking our fulfillment in Him.