Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Blase, and all that we really know about him was that he was the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia during the fourth century. Everything else is legend. But, even if the entire story isn’t true, there is Truth in the legend, because it points us to Christ. Saint Blase is, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews says, one of that “great cloud of witnesses” who helps us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith.” He was known to take up the work of Jesus the healer, just as Jesus commanded the Twelve to do in today’s Gospel reading, as he sent them out two by two.
The legendary Acts of Saint Blase were written 400 years after his death. According to them Blase was a good bishop, working hard to encourage the spiritual and physical health of his people. Because of persecution that still raged throughout Armenia, Blase was apparently forced to flee to the back country. There he lived as a hermit in solitude and prayer, but made friends with the wild animals. One day a group of hunters seeking wild animals for the amphitheater stumbled upon Blase’s cave. They were first surprised and then frightened. The bishop was kneeling in prayer surrounded by patiently waiting wolves, lions and bears.
As the hunters hauled Blase off to prison, the legend has it, a mother came with her young son who had a fish bone lodged in his throat. At Blase’s command the child was able to cough up the bone. Supposedly, that is the reason he has become the patron saint of those suffering from diseases of the throat.
Eventually, Blase was tortured for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods, and when he still refused to do so, he was beheaded in the year 316. Today we pray in a special way for protection from afflictions of the throat and from other illnesses. The blessing of Saint Blase is a sign of our faith in God’s protection and love for us and for the sick.