Saint Cecily – our contemporary
Our world consumes us and itself with crazy speed. We are caught up in this ever accelerating speed of…of what? Whatever our answer is, it is about forgetting our truer self. Today’s commemoration of Saint Cecily strikes us. Encountering this third century martyr, the way in which she lived, prayed, and died is a genuine reawakening. We sense a harmony in her personality. When she tells her husband that she consecrated her life to God, the young husband, Valerian, mirrors back her inner harmony. ‘There is an angel of God watching over me. If you touch me in the way of marriage, he will be angry with you; if not, he will protect you.’ She was accepted by Valerian.
When Cecily was tortured, he answered to the threats of the prefect: ‘Do you not know that I am the bride of my Lord Jesus Christ’? This is the point when the thin ice of the superficiality our world breaks under us. We are, in an instant, in the deepest connection with the freshness of the emerging Church. There is something extraordinary vitality of this Christian spring. When Christ’s presence was a real-time and full presence. The freshness and full face value of the words, faith and everyday witness, is the core of ‘the catholicity of faith’. Let us re-think our faith, let us share our lives in this ‘trans-historical’ conversation with the early martyrs of the Church. We can learn to welcome Christ and sense his presence, and love His words!
'He that holdeth her fast shall inherit glory; and wheresoever she entereth, the Lord will bless. They that serve her shall minister to the Holy One: and them that love her the Lord doth love. Whoso giveth ear unto her shall judge the nations: adn be that attendeth unto her shall dwell securely.'
A 'new monastic commitment' is needed in our times. 'Monastic', in the sense of the discipline of the early religious communities. The word comes from Greek μοναχός, monachos, derived from μόνος, monos, "alone". The early monks lived separate from the noise of the world in order to focus on the essential, the person's union with Jesus Christ, their Master. It is in this sense that Christians need a renew 'monastic' culture. Our world is desperately in need of re-focusing on God again. It is this new monastic discipline – intense friendship with God's son – that will enable us to 'judge' rightly where we are.
'If a man commit himself unto her [Wisdom], he shall inherit her; and his generations shall hold her in possession. For at the first she will walk with him by crooked ways, and bring fear and dread upon him, and torment him with her discipline, until she may trust his soul, and try him by her laws. Then will she return the straight way unto him, and comfort him, and shew him her secrets. But if he go wrong, she will forsake him and give him over to his own ruin.'
These lines call us to an important realisation. On a personal level, we need to learn that 'love' is not an option. The mentioned monastic tradition focused on re-gaining the sense of the real. The monks made a constant effort to keep their sense of the Sacred (meaning of life) over against the pressures of the world in which they lived. The above dialogue between the soul and its Source embraces us into what is real. Love is real alone; life spent in a permanent effort to love and being loved is real alone. When we raise the need of a new monastic focusing on the essentials, we are facing something vital. In a world which is full of replicas, when 'false selves' are promoted, when the virtual spaces and times replace real life we should witness to what is real. There is a twin to the recognition (which is our starting point) that Love is not an option. Namely, the life or the decline of our soul, as options, is not a virtual reality. Christian communities either make their monastic efforts 'to be' or everything is going to be replaced its anti-world.
The Acts of Apostles, in today's reading, clearly show the Church's very first 'monastic effort' to witness the real. 'Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.' The 'resourcing' is clear. First, just like Peter and the first Christians we need to contemplate the vitality of the faithful commitment to the Word of God, Jesus' message. This 'monastic vision', as a resource, has to be attained first. Without developing this spirituality of our parishes – observance will be consumed by virtual realities that we do not even observe. But if we have this, we have the courage to grow in a fuller way into the Kingdom of God and into its healing potentials. 'And now Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.'
‘We fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour: how is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints! Therefore have we erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined unto us, and the sun of righteousness rose not upon us. We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction: yea, we have gone through deserts, where there lay no way: but as for the way of the Lord, we have not known it.’
One can see how the sufferings of the Lord and our sufferings mingle in these lines. The image of the Suffering and Glorified Christ embraces − sums up − the life of all. When we see the wounds of our life, people’s suffering or derailed hopes: we are not left with this negative image. God wants us to see the ‘positive image’, that of his Suffering Son. Our sufferings are a reminder of His redemptive suffering for us. All Saints, and All Souls (we) meet this way − in Christ.
‘For the hope of the ungodly is like dust that is blown away with the wind; like a think froth that is driven away with the storm; like the as the smoke which is dispersed here and there with a tempest, and passeth away as the remembrance of a gust that tarrieth but a day…we were consumed in our own wickedness. ’
We are also reminded of our own failures. The Bible is a realistic reminder of the human condition. These sober lines show when we are not part of the image of Christ.
Yet, it is not the final word. We are given the most positive image to contemplate: the joy of the just who have recognised Christ in their sufferings and life-journey. ‘But the righteous live for evermore; their reward also is with the Lord, and the care of them is with the most High. Therefore shall they receive a glorious kingdom, and a beautiful crown from the Lord’s hand: for with his right hand shall he cover them, and with his arm shall he protect them.’
So let us enter this see of positive vision. Let us admit, as the ultimate experience of adulthood, that our life is like ‘the voice of many waters’. Life grows into an unconscious, impenetrable see that we cannot control. That is why we need the ‘voice of many waters’, who embraces us and holds our complicated ways together. This is ‘the voice of mighty thunderings, saying: Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him. And this is so beautiful to discover that this very voice is pronounced to us in every Holy Mass when the Host is elevated before the Communion. ‘Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.’
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..