St Viviana

Virgin and Martyr (entered heaven in 361)

Dear Vivian,

I know (really, I’m not kidding) how tempting it is.  And what can do to help fortify you against the temptation?  I could be rational, and explain how it is merely an excess of youthful passion that has been leading you and your boyfriend down a path of excessive physical intimacy.  But would that convince a heart so big as yours, one so prone to affection and self-giving? Probably not. You say you feel as if you have much love to give, and you really want to give it, and you don’t understand why God wouldn’t want you to do so… It is precisely because you have so much love to give that God invites you to follow his wise plan.  To pour a barrel of water into the desert sands, wanting to make things grow there, may be considered a generous deed. But it would be unwise. The wiser deed would be to find a tract of the desert able to support life, and till the soil there, and prepare it, and dig ditches for irrigation, and get it ready in every way to be truly and lastingly fruitful.  Then plant seeds, and water them little by little, and watch your garden grow and bear fruit… That is the difference between the love of Christian chastity and the love of pagan passion: an irrigated garden vs. a barrel of water splashed on desert sands. A difference well understood by today’s saint.

She was born in Rome in the fourth century, to devout Christian parents, who were persecuted for their faith (dad was exiled and mom was executed).  Orphaned, barely surviving as beggars for five months, Viviana and her sister Demetria were eventually put into the care of an artful and successful Roman lady named Rufina, one of the distinguished leaders of the highly sophisticated Roman circles of prostitution.  Rufina used all her skill trying to win over the young Viviana to her way of thinking. She coaxed and pampered and patiently wore away at Viviana’s resistance. She pointed out all the social and sensual advantages of being a professional mistress, and explained how esteemed a young, beautiful and intelligent girl could become by playing her cards right, how many noble Roman men were more faithful and loving to their mistresses than they were to their wives…

I imagine Viviana was truly tempted.  She was young, she had experienced loneliness and poverty, all her future still lay ahead of her, and she was given an opportunity for a life of ease, pleasure, and influence.  But it would require betraying Christ by using her sexuality for a purpose different than the one for which God had given it. Viviana’s love for the Lord was too strong. She resisted the temptation.  Rufina was furious at being confounded and imprisoned the girl in a madhouse. Soon afterward Viviana followed in her parents’ footsteps: she was tied to a pillar and scourged by whips tipped with lead, torture which killed her.  In disdain, her brutalized body was left exposed for two days as food for the wild dogs, but they wouldn’t touch it (a sign, to my mind, of Christ’s faithfulness to those who are faithful to him. Finally, she was buried at night by a priest named John.

Maybe her example of fidelity to Christ in such an extreme temptation will strengthen your heart to be faithful to him in your more subtle temptation.  If you are, I can guarantee you won’t have any regrets; if you aren’t, I can guarantee you will.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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