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St. Cecilia and consecrated life

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While on trial for practicing Christianity in pagan Rome, the young virgin Cecilia was asked to state her name. She replied, “Men call me Cecilia, but my most beautiful name is that of Christian.” The interrogator, Almachius, grew impatient with her defiance and stated, “Are you ignorant of my power?” To which Cecilia retorted, “And do you know who is my protector and my spouse? The Lord Jesus Christ.” At the end of the trial Cecilia was executed for her fidelity to Christ. Today, most people associate the name of St. Cecilia with her connection to music, but we should remember that her whole being was caught up in a continual song of praise to her Lord. Cecilia’s life centered on her firm identity in Christ, her total trust in God’s plan and the joy that comes from belonging totally to Christ.        

As a consecrated religious and member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, I anticipate the feast day of St. Cecilia, Nov. 22, with great joy. Cecilia’s life reminds me that I, too, want to offer my life in song to the Lord. I am encouraged by Cecilia to renew my identity in Christ and say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me” (Gal 2:20). In the sacrament of marriage, we marvel at the mystery of the two becoming one. Receiving from Christ the vocation to religious life, I am called to give myself wholly to him, here and now, for the sake of the church. My entire existence is given over to Christ. Because of this, my consecrated life becomes a sign of that loving union with God in eternity to which all are called by their baptism. The vocation to religious life is pure gift, given for God’s glory and the good of the church.

Holiness, union with Christ, is the goal of all our lives. This union with God brings an abundance of joy, for as Father Thomas Dubay wrote, “Anyone full of love will be full of joy.” Perhaps that’s the real secret of consecrated joy, that religious are called to empty themselves of riches in order to be filled with the treasure that is Christ. We offer our undivided hearts in love to Christ our spouse and we surrender our will to the Father, knowing that his plan is always best. It is a life that leads to thanksgiving.  When we Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia recite the antiphon for the feast of Cecilia, we sing, “St. Cecilia kept the Gospel of Christ ever near her heart. Day or night she never ceased praying and speaking with God.” May each of us, like Cecilia, be ready to die for the Lord, but even more, may we live for the Lord and offer our lives to God in one joyful song of praise.

Sr. Mahowald, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, teaches religion and is chair of the religion department at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019