St Tharsilla and St Emiliana

(entered heaven this day – St Tharsilla – and on the Epiphany – Emiliana – in 550)

Dear Emile,

How good of God to let us celebrate another Christmas Eve!  For some reason, reflecting on the great mystery of Christ’s incarnation, and on his birth in that cold cave in Bethlehem so long ago always makes me think of heaven.  Perhaps it’s because Jesus had to leave heaven to come to earth, and because he came to earth to open the way for us to come to heaven. I think the devil hates when we think about heaven, which is perhaps why modern society tries so energetically to belittle it.  The Church is quite clear, however, when it teaches that our definitive happiness, that total fulfillment, and peace that we all long for, that we all were made for, can only be attained in heaven. Even the saints, the men and women who lived this earthly life more vibrantly and happily than anyone, longed for the total union with God that only heaven can offer.  


Did you know that one of today’s saints (St Tharsilla) entered heaven precisely on Christmas Eve?  It’s true. What an icon of Christianity! It’s almost as if Jesus came to earth to take her place, so she could go and take his place next to the Father.  In fact, her last words, spoken while she was surrounded by her friends and family (she had fallen sick a few days before, and her great-grandfather, Pope St Felix II, had appeared to her and showed her a place in heaven, saying “Come; I will receive you into this habitation of light…” That was before it had become usual for prelates to be celibate, by the way) were, “Away!  Away! My savior Jesus is coming!” Those should be our words too on Christmas Eve.

A few days later, St Tharsilla appeared to her sister. Emiliana (they had been living as consecrated virgins on their father’s estate in Rome; their brother was Pope St Gregory the Great – quite a family, eh?) and called her to come and celebrate the Epiphany in heaven, and, indeed, St Emiliana died on the eve of January 6, the feast of the Epiphany.

Of course, holiness like that doesn’t happen randomly.  When they prepared the holy sisters’ bodies for death, they noticed that St Tharsilla’s elbows and knees had accrued a thick, hardened layer of skin, the result of many hours spent in prayer.  

And that, my dear niece, is a valuable lesson for all of us during these festive days – we ought to increase the time we spend with our Lord, not let it slow to a trickle among parties and games and all the holiday hullabaloo.  If you count on my prayers, for you, I’ll count on your prayers for me.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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