St Cunegund

Widow (entered heaven this day in 1033)

Dear Connie,

Now that you have decided to follow through with your curatorial training (the elite corps of graduate students associated with that program at the Louvre Museum will be surprised to find such a refined and genial companion in their first American classmate), prepare yourself for spiritual battle.  The world of the fine arts, especially in Europe, is no moral playground; it’s more like a moral madhouse. You will be hobnobbing with the aristocrats, the highly educated, the nobles, the descendants of kings and emperors, and you will probably end up finding your husband among them (unless our Lord himself begins to court you).  Watch out. Remember that palaces, princes, and sophisticated soirées are not a formula for automatic happiness, much less for holiness.

I have often been struck by the example of women like today’s saint, who rose to the pinnacle of power and prestige but abandoned it all for the convent.  Cunegund was the privileged daughter of Siegfried of Luxemburg and St Hedwig. She received an exemplary education in the faith and in all the accouterments of royalty and was wedded to Henry, Duke of Bavaria (a saintly man himself, so they say).  They had a happy marriage, though not ideal (Cunegund was the object of scandalous calumny, and even Henry suspected her of infidelity until the slanderers were exposed). When Otto III died, Henry was elected Holy Roman Emperor and crowned by the Pope.  Under the empress’s instigation, Henry built and endowed numerous churches and monasteries, winning favor among the people. When he passed away, the widowed noblewoman received the veil. For the last 10 years of her life she lived in the humblest obscurity, taking on the most mundane and humiliating tasks in the convent without complaint – only reminders of her former pomp and position would upset her, and she would respond with redoubled attention to the sick, to the chores, and to her prayers.

We should be careful not to dismiss this history as exceptional or quaintly pious; if such a woman found more meaning and happiness as a consecrated soul than as a revered empress, it would be wise to adjust your own career expectations accordingly.  “Seek first the Kingdom,” as our Lord exhorts us (Matthew 6:33), and everything else will fall into place. I assume this applies as well to empresses as to curators of famous museums.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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