St Cecilia

Virgin and martyr (entered heaven probably in the third century)

Dear Cecil,

So you’re having trouble controlling your moodiness.  Like the changing weather, you say, you find yourself chipper one moment and dour the next, without any rational explanation.  I think this emotional inconstancy, this moody sensibility, is something you have inherited from your mother.  I remember she had the same difficulties when we were growing up together.  In any case, it’s nothing to fret about.  Remember, feelings, mere emotions, although they are great gifts from God and can help us tremendously in our strivings for holiness and happiness, do not themselves constitute the substance of our lives.  Virtue, intimacy with Christ, and fidelity to God’s will do not require good feelings, and yet true fulfillment and meaning in life flow precisely from them.  The mother who stays up night after night and day after day with her sick child will feel worn out and on edge, but she will be quite happy because she is faithfully living out her deepest love.  Just so, when your moods come and go, retreat to your heart, and renew the deeper purpose of your life – to discover and fulfill your role in the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to keep your music habit under reasonable control.  Remember what I told you: music is an imitative art; it mimics our emotions and our passions.  Therefore, we often use it almost like a drug, drowning out the unpleasantness of our duties by immersing ourselves in music that reinforces our moodiness.  Watch out for that, my sensitive nephew; it’s one of the devil’s favorite tricks.  Perhaps a prayer or two to today’s saint, patroness of music and musicians, will give you a boost.

Cecilia was of a noble Roman family, and she grew up Christian in a time when Christians were frequently and violently persecuted.  She was notably devout, and vowed her virginity to Christ when she was still a teenager.  Of course, her father had other plans for her, and insisted on her marrying an up-and-coming nobleman by the name of Valerian.  She couldn’t do anything to avoid the wedding, but during the festivities, as the families were feasting and dancing, she stole away by herself and sang to her heavenly spouse in the silence of her heart (which is why she is the patroness of music).  That night, when she and Valerian withdrew to their nuptial quarters, she took her courage in her hands and told her husband that she was a Christian, and that she had a guardian angel who would protect her virginity, and that if he (Valerian) were to touch her in the way of marriage, the angel would be displeased and make him suffer, but if he respected her, the angel would love and protect him as well.  Valerian expressed his doubts and asked to see the angel.  Cecilia promised that if he believed in the one true God and was baptized, the angel would appear to him.  So he went to the bishop (Pope Urban, probably) to be baptized, and when he returned, sure enough he saw the angel standing beside his wife.  The angel crowned them both with wreathes of roses and lilies.  Soon thereafter, Valerian’s brother, Tibertius underwent a similar sequence of events, and they were both called before the civil magistrates and ordered to worship the pagan gods.  They refused and were martyred.  Other officials were sent to induce Cecilia to give up her faith, but when she converted them the authorities ordered her as well to be executed, with a song of love for Christ upon her lips.

Some fashionable modern historians doubt the story’s historicity, but today the whole Church celebrates the memorial of St Cecilia, virgin and martyr.  Perhaps the thought of her courage and vigorous evangelizing spirit can help you avoid descending so often into that dark pit of sentimentalism and self-pity.  In any case, count on my prayers.

Your loving uncle,


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