St Withburga

Virgin (entered heaven in 743)

Dear Wilma,

I just received a frantic note from your mother (my dear, nervous sister), who is afraid that you are playing a dangerous game with your naturally attractive personality and looks by spending so much of your free time at the beach and dressing as if you were in a beer commercial.  Since my sister tends to overreact (she always has had this tendency, which actually saved me from some precarious situations during our childhood exploits), I can’t give full credence to her alarm, but she also tends to sniff danger from far off (which is why she saved me from those precarious situations), so there is probably some truth to what she says.  Confident in your good sense and love for the Savior who gave his life for you, I am certain that a little reminder about God’s point of view will inspire you to make any necessary adjustments to your summer activities. It just so happens that today’s saint provides a perfect platform for such a reminder.

Withburga was the youngest of King Anna’s four daughters.  (Yes, “Anna” was actually the King’s name. He ruled the East Angles – in England – for years, and I do believe that they were somewhat confused when it came to handing out names.  Withburga’s sisters had to endure the appellations of Exburga, Ermenilda, and Etheldreda. Perhaps they sound more elegant in their ancient pronunciation.) As you may remember, all four of them became saints – remarkable for their good cheer, gentle charity, extraordinary prayer lives, and robust virtue.  Anna must have been quite proud of them (he probably has one of the largest family estates in heaven). Withburga withdrew to solitude when her sisters traveled to France to follow their religious vocations. Soon she gathered a community of likeminded maidens and founded a church and convent near the sea. She died before it was completed.  Three hundred and fifty-three years later the bodies of all four sisters were removed from their separate graves and buried together near the high altar of a new church. The amazing thing is that the bodies of Withburga and Etheldreda were incorrupt, that is, intact (the other two were mere dust and bones). Withburga’s was not only all there, but it was still flexible, as if she had only died the day before.

And that’s where the reminder comes in.  St Withburga and her sister are not the only cases of saints’ bodies remaining incorrupt (if they were, it would be reasonable to question the story’s veracity).  I can’t explain the phenomenon completely (though many have tried), but I can see that one lesson is clear: God is interested in what we do with our bodies. Of course, we knew this from the beginning, after all, he is the one who gave us our bodies.  But sometimes we forget that our bodies are the physical revelation of our spirits, that we express who we are by the way we dress, speak, and interact with others (all that happens through the mediation of our bodies). They are not mere objects, ornaments, or tools; they are the visible manifestation of our selves.  And if we are baptized, they are also temples of the Holy Trinity, who dwells within us wherever we are. Therefore, our bodies as well as our souls ought to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

So, if you have been falling into immodesty and sensuality, pick yourself up before it’s too late.  Elegance, decorum, and even majesty ought to characterize a beloved bride of the Christ the King. And that excludes all slovenliness, bawdiness, and carelessness in dress, comportment, and speech.  I trust this is a sufficient reminder? In any case, count on my prayers, and St Withburga’s.

Your concerned Uncle, Eddy

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