Friday, November 22, 2019

Saint Cecilia and the "Victory of Christ"

Happy Saint Cecilia's Day!

This is a special day to me for many reasons.

Stories have been told down through the centuries of heroic young people who have offered their lives in the service of the Lord. They come from many different places, nations, and cultures. Though their time in this world was brief, their sacrifices have borne abundant fruit beyond what anyone could have imagined, and we remember them throughout the year with joy. The Church assures us that in their short lives the victory of Christ has been definitively realized.

The stories of the young saints are for the edification of all of us.

One of the oldest of these stories concerns a heroic young woman who loved Jesus, witnessed to him and inspired those around her, endured many trials with trust in him, and finally gave her life for him. Cecilia was a second century Roman martyr who was known for praising the Lord in song.

She remains today—in the presence of God—profoundly united to us in the communion of saints, and in a particular way as the friend and helper of all musicians and singers. "The Lord is our savior; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life" (Isaiah 38:10).

Today is "Music Day" in many parts of the world. Cecilia, an apparently "ordinary" girl with a beautiful singing voice who was killed because of her love for Jesus Christ, is still honored and loved after 1800 years. To be clear, she is not worshiped as if she were a goddess. That is not in any way the understanding of Catholic Christians (like me) or others who observe the ancient Christian traditions regarding martyrs and saints.

Cecilia is known as a "patroness of musicians" not because she is viewed in a pagan mythological sense, as if she had some primal, demiurgic control over the essence of music itself. God alone is the Creator of all things, and Jesus Christ his Son is Lord and Redeemer. Superstitious attitudes may spread among some Christians, but these are aberrations. The "patronage" of the saints merely recognizes them as living persons in God, who remain in solidarity with us on our journey to eternal life, and who have a particular solicitude for activities and circumstances that they themselves embraced in some fashion during their own earthly journey.

Saint Cecilia was a young person devoted to the Lord who expressed her love for him with music. Why should she not even now continue to have a special concern for all those who wish to sing and make music? She who is a free daughter of the Father, who reigns now in Christ, remains in a vital relationship with us. She is still a human person and she still loves music as an aspect of the concrete vocation that shaped the particularity of her love for God. For millennia, musicians have turned to her with confidence that she is someone who understands them.

Thus you can find countless images of Cecilia in different cultural contexts. Often she is depicted with a musical instrument. Sometimes (such as in the picture above) she is playing a keyboard of some type.

What a beautiful person is Saint Cecilia! How much she means to me because I am a musician, and because I endeavor to discern the search for God, the longing for God, the need for God, as well as the love of God expressed in music. And though I am no longer young in years, I have been entrusted with the care and mentoring of many young people—and beyond this the echo of the song of youth still resonates in my heart.

Today when I think of youth and music and a love for Jesus and his brothers and sisters (who are all of us), a love that shines even greater than the darkness of death, I find many signs for hope. I have neither the knowledge nor the competence nor the authority to call anybody "a saint," and nothing I say here should be construed as anything more than my own human opinion regarding people who inspire me, or certain facets of people's lives that I find inspiring. It is in this sense that I find today many "signs for hope."

One of them is here. Right here:

Christina Grimmie singing and playing the piano on YouTube in 2012.

I come here on Saint Cecilia's Day, because Christina Grimmie still amazes me.

And it's not just her music that amazes me.

I make no claims to "know" anything beyond what can be known by an ordinary Christian (and, indeed, a rather poor example of a Christian in my case). I am just one very foolish old man. My observations and opinions and words don't count for anything.

So look for yourselves. What do you see? Here was a kind, good, generous young woman, with an astonishing musical talent. She never hid her love for Jesus but she wasn't pushy about it, and she liked many things that "regular kids" in the 21st century like. She wanted very much to be successful in popular music. She made mistakes. She was a sinner in need of forgiveness. Finally, she was the victim of an act of violencethe violence that, especially today, seems to want to set fire to the world and watch it burn.

It is such a sad, tragic, awful story. There is no denying the terrible pain of it, especially for her family and those who knew her personally.

Something remains to be said, however. People still say it, three and a half years later. Even people who don't know Jesus, who don't think about God, who aren't into any kind of "religious talk"even they say it: Christina Grimmie loved greatly. She had a great love that opened its arms to embrace the whole of life and every person entrusted to her, all the way to the end...

This is not the story of Saint Cecilia. There are no wonders or miracles here, and no evil empire with ruthless judges who openly and obviously persecute Christians. There are no ultimate courageous declarations of fidelity to Christ in front of the wickedness that opposes him.

Rather, what appears here looks like a senseless murder by a deranged fanatic.

Who knows what Christina might have been struggling with at that time, what sufferings she might have been going through, what worries or preoccupations were on her mind that evening, or how tired she was after a gig in a small theater on a hot night in muggy central Floridathe night of June 10, 2016.

She was well known, but not a big "star" (even though the music industry widely recognized her enormous talent). That night, she didn't go to a $500-dollar-per-ticket VIP lounge surrounded by a platoon of hefty security dudes. It was "meet-and-greet everybody" after the show, give 'em hugs, listen to them, sign stuff, be especially encouraging to anyone who seemed shy or troubled.

It was just "loving people," because that's how she lived.

More than once she told people, "Jesus loves you so much! As do I." It was like she just "naturally" affirmed and offered her own love right alongside (or "inside") the love of Jesus Christ himself! But she didn't say this too often. Most of the time, she just lived it. She was living it that night, when she opened her arms to hug people who had lined up to meet her, one by one, to welcome each of them with love.

These were simple gestures. And yet her young life was full of them. Certainly she sinned and fell short more than any of us will ever know. I don't want to artificially romanticize the challenges and difficulties she faced, or try to polish over the bumps and the flaws in her story that, really, I know very little about. But I do know that Jesus said that "much is forgiven where there is much love" (see Luke 7:47). And weren't her days full of persistent, humble, apparently "ordinary" expressions of a great love?

She knew the Source of love, and was held by him. She sings: "When I'm ready to fall / You're the one / Always holding me up / With love." For me, she continues to be a sign of hope.

Thank you, Christina Victoria Grimmie.💚 Your name "Christina Victoria"like the greatness of your lovepoints to the "Victory of Christ." And that victory is my hope.