St Christina the Astonishing

(entered heaven in 1224)

Dear Kristen,

Your last note edified me terrifically.  An internship in the high-brow professional sector has a lot of perks, and frankly, I thought you might be seduced by the glitz and chic posturing.  Your deprecation of the rampant selfishness, superficiality, backbiting, gossip, and general immaturity of these corporate climbers shows that your conscience is still in good shape.  It’s a relief to me. Of course, I hope you don’t stop there – just because God has given you a decent (well, at least above average) formation in your faith and in virtue doesn’t mean you can aloofly pass judgment on all these sinners; our Lord is counting on you to be a channel of his saving and sanctifying grace.  Nevertheless, keep well aware of the evil, sinful behavior patterns that have become the norm among our cultural elite. A healthy awareness of the reality and repulsiveness of sin (your own as well as others’) is a prerequisite for true humility, which in turn is a prerequisite for intimacy with God: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)  Speaking of awareness of sin, that reminds me of today’s saint.

Christina was named after St Christina of Italy, who died a martyr in the early years of the Church (her feast is celebrated today as well).  We don’t know much about Christina of Italy (legends abound, however, as when they tried to burn her alive and the fire got out of hand, roasting hundreds of pagan spectators while leaving the young virgin unharmed), but we know a considerable amount about Christina the Astonishing.  She was from Belgium, orphaned at 15, and fell into some kind of catatonic state when she was 22. During the funeral Mass, when the open casket was inside the Church, she suddenly awoke, and rose to the church rafters like a bird, astonishing (and frightening) the assembly – which fled in panic.  Later she explained that she took refuge in the rafters because she couldn’t stand the smell of the sinful people. She also explained that during her catatonia she had visited hell (where she saw a bunch of her friends), purgatory (where she saw a bunch more), and heaven, where she was given the option of taking up residence or returning to earth to offer up prayers and suffering for the benefit of the souls in purgatory.  She chose the latter. After the rafter incident, she continued her astonishing behavior. Climbing into ovens and diving into freezing rivers to escape the smell of sinful people, and saying her prayers while balanced on fence posts or curled up into a tiny ball on the ground. She lived by begging, dressed in rags, and, frankly, her fellow countrymen didn’t know what to do with her. She finally calmed down after sitting for a while in the water of a baptismal font.  Then she entered a convent, where she was praised by the prioress for her obedience and frequently consulted by high-standing spiritual and secular persons.

Odd and, well, astonishing, I’ll admit, but there is something to be learned from Christina’s abhorrence of that repugnant “smell of sinful humans.”  If we could taste, smell, see, and hear the reality of sin (not merely the passing and destructive pleasures it offers us in the present moment), we would probably resist temptation with considerable more alacrity.  God seems to have given you that grace – don’t squander it.

Your aromatic uncle, Eddy

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