2cornucopias

Four Virgins

In 13 Today's Church on 2017/05/19 at 12:00 AM

 

  • One evening this past week while in Italy, I noticed an inscription on the outside of the church of San Geremia in Venice that reads: “Lucy, Virgin of Syracuse, Martyr of Christ, lies in this temple.”
  • Intrigued, I decided to pay St. Lucy a visit the following day. I managed to be at the church door when it opened that next day, and I was the first to visit her tomb that morning.
  • Lucy is one of those great saints that has always fascinated me. Born in 283 in Sicily, she was martyred in 304 for refusing to marry a pagan man who denounced her as a Christian.
  • As part of her martyrdom, Lucy’s eyes were gauged out, and thus statues and images of her often show her holding a platter with her eyes on it. Lucy is one of the saints whose statue will soon adorn our church.
  • Along with St. Agnes, St. Agatha, and St. Cecilia, St. Lucy is one of the four great virgin martyrs of the Catholic Church. She is one of only seven female saints (other than our Lady) mentioned in the Canon of the Mass.
  • Like so many saints, Lucy is buried in a glass case so that her mortal remains can be seen. While her body is partially decayed, much of her flesh is still intact, even though she died more than 1700 years ago. Lucy is clothed in a red dress as a sign of her martyrdom.
  • As I was the first person in the church that morning, I got to spend some time in prayer with good St. Lucy. I was struck by how small and petite she seemed, but nevertheless she gave courageous witness to Christ by her terrible martyrdom.
  • As I whispered my little prayers to St. Lucy, asking for her intercession for so many different people, and thanking her for her favors of the past and her witness to Christ, a question arose in my mind and heart: What am I willing to suffer for Christ?
  • Even more pointedly, I had to ask myself: How much do I really love Christ?
  • Over the years I’ve been blessed to visit the tombs of many martyrs. I even saw several onthis past trip. I’ve always admired their great love for Christ, a love so strong that theypreferred death to betraying that love.
  • And I enjoy visiting their tombs because I find them to be a challenge as well as anencouragement. It’s edifying to know of their courage and love for Christ in the face ofterrible suffering. Their sufferings give us strength in the face of our own.
  • But at the same time the martyrs force us to examine the strength and purity of our own lovefor Jesus and the Church He founded. Their lives provide the ultimate measure of one’s lovefor God, and thus they help us to better understand what true love for Christ entails.
  • Fortunately, there are many ways to love Christ, for not every saint was a martyr. But every saint was obedient to Christ, and as Jesus tells us in the Gospel today, our love for Him mustbegin with obedience as He states: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
  • Of course we understand that keeping Christ’s commandments means, at the very least,following the Church’s teachings. But simple obedience to Church teaching cannot be thewhole expression of our love for Christ. In truth, it’s only the beginning.
  • St. Peter tells us today to “sanctify Christ as Lord in [our] hearts,” which is another way ofsaying that Christ must be the king and ruler of our hearts. This means that we must learn to die to self. This means that we must love Him more than we love ourselves.
  • The life of the Christian is essentially a life of humble sacrifice, a life of sacrifice to the Father. We are called to a life of unselfishness, giving ourselves completely to the Father by loving Him with all our hearts, and by loving our neighbor as ourselves.
  • And as we do this, as we grow in love for God, we grow in holiness.
  • So while loving God and growing in holiness may not require physical martyrdom as it did for Lucy, it does require that we die to self so that Christ can reign in us. This death beginswith cutting out the sin in our lives.
  • There is a natural progression to growth in holiness. First we must learn to avoid all mortalsin. Once we’ve broken the habit of mortal sin in our life, we can really begin to makeprogress in correcting our smaller faults and venial sins.
  • Moreover, as we give up our habits of vice, our souls become a more fertile ground for theWord of God to take root, and we become able to better cooperate with the grace God givesus so that we can grow in virtue.
  • As we grow in virtue, we actually begin to desire God more, generating within us a greaterdesire to pray. And the more that we pray, the more capable we become of living a virtuous life that increases our desire to pray, so that our prayer and our acts of virtue mutually support and nourish one another.
  • And it is through this growth in prayer and virtue that we realize the greatest benefit of dying to self and loving God, which is union with Christ!
  • But being united to Christ is not a mere reward for good behavior. It’s really God’s desire for all of us. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” And this He desires to do for all of us. But we must prepare for such a union.
  • So while He comes to all of us through the sacraments, Jesus also comes to us in a mystical way through prayer. It’s in this mystical union that Christ betroths Himself to us, uniting Himself to us, and making us one with Him.
  • In this process Jesus give us the strength for even greater acts of virtue and a greater capacity for that suffering that makes us more like Himself, even the suffering of martyrdom.
  • But for us to reach this level of prayer where mystical union with Christ occurs, we must first learn to love God above all else, for love of God is really the seedbed of mystical union with God.
  • As I mentioned earlier, it’s our love for God more than anything else that makes us holy. As St. Thérèse was fond of saying, “it’s not important that we do much, but that we love much.”
  • For when we learn to love and trust God as we should, we begin to be like Him, Who is Love. We grow in virtue and holiness, and we begin to actually merit the glories of Heaven.
  • And that’s the whole point of living as a Christian in this world. But it all begins by choosing to love God.
  • Jesus tells us today that: “whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
  • Like St. Lucy and all the saints, may we learn to be obedient to God’s commandments and die to self so our Lord will reveal Himself to us. May we love God above all else so that we may grow in that holiness necessary to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

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