If your name was Zachariah and you lived in ancient Israel, Jerusalem would be a very risky place for you to be. Judging by the stories of the three Zechariahs in the Temple which are recorded in the Bible it would seem that you have a 33.3% chance of losing your speech after encountering the archangel Gabriel whilst you go about your duties. More worryingly still, you have 66.6% chance of being killed on the job for being rather too vocal about your beliefs.
The Zachariah we encounter in our first reading belongs to this second grouping. His preaching caused unrest as he recalled everyone to be faithful to God. Zachariah soon came to be at odds with both the people and the king, who eventually killed him in order to put an end to his message.
This is a Biblical backdrop to the feast we celebrate today as we commemorate St Ia, our principal patron saint, who won the martyrs’ crown after being killed near the mouth of the river Hayle. Her story, though wrapped in mystery, tells of how Ia – like Zechariah – came to be at odds with both the people and the king because of her preaching.
Everything about the life of St Ia, even though it is very little indeed, remind us of the virtue of Christian courage – the virtue of doing and pursuing what is right in the face of adversities and even death.
We venerate Ia as a missionary; as a woman who courageously left behind her native land to proclaim the faith in Jesus Christ to those who did not know him yet.
We venerate Ia as a virgin; as a woman who courageously gave her whole self to God, consecrating every thought, every moment of her life, and every part of her body to the Lord.
We venerate Ia as a martyr; as a woman who courageously preferred to give up this life entirely, rather than renounce to her faith in Jesus.
All three of these aspects about St Ia’s life can be models for own lives, but above all the virtue of Christian courage is the one we should strive to model the most. Not all of us are called to be missionaries and to leave these shores bound for faraway places to proclaim Jesus. Not all of us are called to consecrate ourselves to God alone, to renounce to physical intimacy with another person, emptying our minds and hearts of everything but the Jesus. Not all of us are called to shed blood for the gospel, to forfeit this earthly life in order to bear greater witness to Jesus.
However, all of us are called to be courageous in our Christian faith – not lukewarm or indifferent about our beliefs, but courageous. All of us are called to imitate the example of St Ia, by bringing Jesus to others, by keeping Jesus at the centre of our hearts and minds, by surrendering our life in a daily effort to follow Jesus ever more closely.
Let us pray,
O glorious Saint Ia, virgin and martyr, who, being subjected to bitter torments, did not lose your faith nor your constancy in confessing Jesus Christ; obtain for us an active and solid faith, that we may always be courageous followers of Jesus, and fervent Christians in word and in deed. Amen.