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a holy woman: st. cecilia

September 2, 2009

One can easily find several versions of the life of St. Cecilia.  St. CeciliaMany details of her life are attributed to legend.  The young virgin martyr did in fact exist – her body was found in the catacombs in the ninth century – but trying to decipher truth in all the discrepancies isn’t easy.  The story of St. Cecilia doesn’t need much embellishment: the simple facts are profound enough.

Cecilia was of noble birth.  As a young woman of virtue and faith, she was known to wear sackcloth under her garments and had vowed her virginity to Christ.  In spite of her vow, Cecilia’s parents gave her in marriage to a young nobleman, Valerian, who was a Pagan.  Through her steadfast faith and prayer, Valerian and his brother, Tibertius, were baptized as Christians soon after the wedding. 

Cecilia remained faithful to her vow of purity and virginity, and her husband and brother-in-law were inspired by the beauty of her virtue.  This is a perfect example of Christina King’s words: “Through the inspiration of woman, men “puff up” with courage, strength, and belief in themselves as well as the inspiration to create works of art. They become better men, noble men when a woman who loves them believe them capable of greatness.”  It also supports Robert Colquhoun views when he quotes Alice von Hildebrand: “when women are pure, men will respect, nay, venerate them; they will also hear the call challenging them to chastity” (the Privilege of being a woman, p. 90)

In their newfound faith, the brothers devoted themselves to burying the bodies of Christian martyrs and distributing alms to those in need.  For this, they were arrested and soon became martyrs themselves for refusing to give up their faith in God.  Valerian and Tibertius took up the challenge God presented them through His servant, Cecilia, and they were given royal crowns of martyrdom, proving their conversion and transformation was genuine.

Soon after their deaths, Cecilia was also arrested for continuing their service of burying other martyrs and preaching about Christ.  She was sentenced to death by suffocation.  She spent one and a half days in the baths without perspiring, much less perishing.  An executioner was sent in and after three tries was unsuccessful in fully removing her head.  Cecilia was left to die.  She used the last bit of her strength to form her hands into a reminder of the Holy Trinity. 

I can remember thinking of Cecilia as a passive person.  Pondering her life, I would get frustrated that she didn’t stand up to her parents and refuse to marry, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it was her obedience to her parents that won her the crowns of purity and martyrdom.  Through her obedience, she was given the opportunity to share her faith with Valerian.  Cecilia’s bold and courageous spirit allowed her to be open and honest with her new husband.  She trusted the Lord to protect her virginity, which He did.  Through that, her husband was converted and his martyrdom lead the way for hers.  She was again full of courage, strength and tenacity as she carried out Valerian’s mission.

Cecilia’s life was not in the public eye, as Joan’s was, but their call was the same: to embrace their true identity as holy, feminine women.  Their diligence to this task in daily life set the foundation for their martyrdom and sainthood.  In becoming the woman God called each of them to be, the men in their lives were able to see clearly their own call and vocation to manhood.

My name saint and my confirmation saint have set the standard high for me as well.  I continually pray for their intercession as I seek to follow their example and the example of our Blessed Mother in embracing my vocation as a woman of God.


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