I’m sure everyone has things in their past of which they would be ashamed. When Frodo thinks that Sam has eaten the last of the lambis bread, and sends him home…when Harry and Ron part ways in Book VII (when Harry arguably needs him the most)…when I – sorry, I’m not going to tell you (it’s just easier to use fictional characters). You get the idea.
This morning, I was blessed with the opportunity to pray before the tomb of St. Lucy, early virgin and martyr of the Church. Now, there have been some discussions, both in my mind and with various visitors (the “discussions” in my mind have been more like reflections) regarding the state of the bodies of the saints. Let me be very honest; St. Lucy has a silver mask over her face. There’s no doubt that her body shows the wear of almost 2 millennia; her body is not as beautiful as it once was, and yet her beauty is far more than a physical attribute. On top of that, yesterday, I was blessed to pray at the tomb of St. Mark the Evangelist. Okay, for you history/culture dorks, here’s your chance to guess where Fr. Rolling was…for the rest of you who don’t know or don’t care, suffice it to know that I was hanging out with the saints this weekend! …AND suffice it to say that both were quite powerful experiences. The Church holds that the Apostles (and by extension, the Evangelists, St. Luke and St. Mark) where obviously entrusted with a task entirely beyond their capacities, and yet essential to our salvation. That being said, God does not proverbially throw up His hands in despair; rather, He rolls up His sleeves (again, proverbially), and goes to work such that the Church also holds that the Apostles (and again, by extension, the Evangelists) were granted a unique grace to accomplish their missions. Not only were they hand-picked by God-made-flesh Himself, but they also lived with Him for 3 years, and more than any other saint, received the guidance of the Holy Spirit so as to be able to understand, explain, teach, and hand on the saving message they had received. Furthermore, it’s said that because of the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they, among all saints, had the greatest sanctity, wisdom, and charity, as well as numerous other virtues. St. Thomas Aquinas even goes so far as to say that no one would be foolish enough to deny such a truth…and he’s a Doctor of the Church. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be caught being so foolish!
Then there’s the virgin-martyrs. As our Lord taught us, no one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Nothing says, “I love you” like being willing to have your eyes plucked out for the One you love! Just because they were beautiful and desirably young ladies doesn’t mean they weren’t tough; in fact, they were probably tougher than most people in the history of the world – man or woman!
Keeping the tombs of these superheroes in mind, consider now some other “funerary monuments” that we ran across this past weekend, that of the famous artist Titian and another belonging to a “random” medieval duke; as I’m sure you can tell, there’s a marked difference between these two styles of tombs (ie. the ones above and the ones here).
Interestingly, both of these “funerary monuments” are found in Catholic Churches! Were they remarkable? Yes. Where they deserving of lasting memory and honor? Perhaps. Should they have had “headstones” larger than the high altar in which they reside? Hard to say. I often find myself telling people to not judge historical decisions based on current standards, but there’s something which seems timeless about the difference between pride and humility.
I want to return for a moment to the tomb of St. Lucy. There’s a sign at the base of the altar where St. Lucy’s body lies which states: Adora solo colui che è santo e ha reso me santo. [Translation: Adore Him alone Who is holy and Who has rendered/made me holy.] While these “funerary monuments” of these worldly figures seems to suggest something of their greatness, the saints, even in death, teach us what is most important: namely giving all glory and honor to God alone who is glorified when His saints are praised. Knowing that at least a few of these individuals, prior to their deaths, had planned for elaborate (one might even say extravagant) “tombs”, the saints obviously weren’t making funeral arrangements while preparing for martyrdom or the like. Do they deserve to be praised? Without a doubt! Should they have remarkable “funerary moments”? Yes; only because it is a further way to praise God whose infinite holiness makes the saints holy, and by honoring the saints, we honor God.
If Pride is the queen of the capital sins, then Humility is the queen and root of all virtues! May the saints teach us – by their lives and in death – to give all glory, honor, and praise to God alone, from Whom all blessings flow!