Memorial of St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr
Saint Cecilia is an interesting woman. She is one of the few people (man or woman) to be mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer I. A basilica was dedicated to her in the 5th century. As soon as she was martyred, stories of her holiness spread like wildfire among Christians. Yet amazingly little is known of her life–even the emperor who reigned when she was martyred is not entirely clear. The details of her life have faded into the forgetfulness of history, but the overall picture has never been lost: that she was a woman dedicated to God. She brought about her husband’s conversion (though the marriage was reputed to never have been consummated, hence her status as both virgin and martyr), and was faithful to Jesus to the point of death.
In a way, there is a great grace in how she is remembered. Just as John the Baptist declared that “he must increase, while I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30), so Saint Cecilia decreased until only her sanctity, her fervor for her husbands, and her martyrdom were remembered. In the end, none of her accomplishments or the particulars of whether she was a woman of Roman nobility mattered. She provides a good reminder for when we survey our own lives. If everything we did in our lives was forgotten, except for how much we loved Jesus and the examples of that love, what would remain? Would the result be something worth proclaiming? As we continue to spend the following week reflecting on the Second Coming, Saint Cecilia offers us an example of how our lives might be judged at that time.
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.
Reflection: In the meditation upon sin, we made reference to Dante’s vision of hell, a cold, desolate place where the fire of love has been extinguished and all lies in a spiritual torpor. This is the perfect image of the heart grown cold to the stirrings of love which God places within it. At the opposite end of Dante’s journey lies a vision that perfectly encapsulates the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. From the lowest reaches of the spiritual universe, Dante ascends to the heights of heaven, where he views “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” At the heart of the universe lives the Trinitarian God, whose perfect love draws all being into an ordered symphony of praise. Dante feels himself drawn into this harmonic vision through the enflaming of his passions and desires. No one with eyes to see can sit impassively at the vision of God’s love. From the disordered state in which Dante had fallen at the beginning of the poem, he becomes progressively cleansed of his disordered affections through the grace of God and the intercession of Beatrice until finally he is able to pass through the heavens and stand in the presence of God. But notice that Dante only sees God’s depths after he has been interiorly transformed.