Understanding Cecilia

“Scripture can only be interpreted in the lives of the saints.” So says Pope Benedict XVI, and it has caused me to ponder on the three levels on which we can understand the saints, and these  three levels are well illustrated by St Cecilia today.

The first level is the historical. We know of Cecilia as a virgin martyr of the early Roman period, that she died at the hands of torturers during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Because she sang hymns as she went to her death she is the patron of musicians. So we have the facts of her saintly life and heroic death, and these facts alone are an inspiration.

However, a second level on which to understand the saints is the Scriptural. The gospel read for today is that of the wise and foolish virgins. So this virgin martyr lives out the gospel. We interpret the gospel through her life and the lives of other virgin saints. As we ponder her life we see what it means to keep the lamps lit through the oil of divine grace and the fire of the Holy Spirit. In her martyrdom we see what it means to go out joyfully to meet the bridegroom, for the bridegroom is Christ who is coming for his bride. We therefore understand the gospel. It means waiting and watching for Christ and joyfully giving all for his love.

There is a third level of understanding the saints which might be called ‘symbolical’ or ‘universal’. At this level the life and death of the saint connects with something greater and deeper. It connects with universal principles and symbols from the unconscious. So, Cecilia becomes a living symbol of virginity and martyrdom. As such she shows us not just what it means to be pure. She shows us purity. She shows us courage. She shows us innocence and wisdom. She shows us the child like virtues of trust. She abides. She endures. The virgin martyrs connect us with the deep stories of childhood–here are all the young heroines of the stories–Belle who won over the Beast, Humble Cinderella who won the heart of the bridegroom–Beatrice who rose beautiful and represented eternal beauty before young Dante.

The lives of the saints therefore transcend the natural understanding. They are more than inspiring examples or courageous role models or even admirable martyrs for a cause. They are perfected by God’s grace and eternal in the heavens.

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