Tuesday, November 22, 2011

St. Cecilia: Martyr & Musician

Above the choir loft in our church is a stained-glass image of the patron saint of music, St. Cecilia, whom we celebrate today. Robed in sapphire blue, she is holding some sort of lyre in a state bordering on ecstasy, while the background color, red, tells the rest of her story.

Wearing the blood-red vestments of martyrdom, our pastor said in his homily this morning that little is known about the married saint who was probably slain in the third century on the orders of the Roman Emperor. Tradition says only that she sang to God at her wedding, and sang again to her Lord as she was put to death.

I was struck by this beautiful contrast, this singing on the scaffold, not unlike that of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne during the French Revolution.

The history of the Catholic Church is filled with such sharp contrasts. They remind me that the joy offered by Christ promises something greater than earthly joy, even if I seldom experience this greatness.

They also remind me that sin and salvation, suffering and joy exist side by side in my heart. I may try to tamp down the dark stuff, anesthetizing myself in a hundred ways, but it is always there. I live in this tension, between the weight of what I’ve done and the lift of what I hope for. The Catholic Church celebrates this tension while offering me a means of resolving it.

I sang in our parish choir until last June, sitting with the basses immediately beneath Cecilia. Then, for reasons having nothing to do with the choir, which I love, I opted out. This sacrifice, as it is, has created another tension: between what I love (choir) and what I feel called to (personal). Personal in the previous sentence boils down to a secret between me and God—nothing more, nothing less.

St. Cecilia, fact and tradition, martyr and musician, helps me to make sense of some of these things.

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