Copyright
John McQuirk.

Sermons and discourses (Volume 3) online

. (page 23 of 43)
Online LibraryJohn McQuirkSermons and discourses (Volume 3) → online text (page 23 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


hundred and forty-four thousand virgins, undefiled
with women, who followed the Lamb whithersoever
He went.

The Church, too, taught of God and reflecting in
her teachings and universal practice the Mind of its
Divine Founder, has always maintained the supe-
riority of Virginity over marriage. Yet she has
ahvays upheld the sacredness and inviolability of
Marriage. And when heretics arose denouncing it
as sinful, she was the first to condemn their teach-
ings and to vindicate its Sacramental character. To
preserve its indissolubility she has braved the power
of mighty kings and even permitted the fall of na-
tions from her pale. To preserve its unity inviolate
she defied an English King; and in consequence lost
one of the noblest portions of Christ's Kingdom on
earth. In the same holy cause she incurred the re-
sentment of the greatest warrior and mightiest con-
queror that perhaps the world has ever seen ; and in
consequence suffered confiscation, persecution, and
other deplorable calamities, whose evil effects even
after a century are yet felt. However, like her Di-
vine Founder, she has always reserved the place near-
est her heart for holy Virginity. To Virgins she
has given the holy title of Spouse of Christ; and to
them, in an especial manner, has she always assigned
the privilege of singing the praises of God. She
requires her priests to be virgins that, with undi-
vided hearts, they may think of and love Him alone



ST. CECILIA 343

Whose ministers they are; that, with holy hands,
they may be worthy to touch and handle His body
and blood. She well knows with St. Paul, that he
who is married is solicitous for the things that may
please his wife, but the Virgin thinketh only of what
may please Almighty God. Hence it is that she
puts obligation of Virginity upon all who desire to
serve God in the religious state. No wonder, there-
fore, that Christ, Who would have us all perfect,
and His Church, by whom nothing is more sought
than that we should prefer the better gifts, should
ever proclaim the surpassing excellence, the sublime
character of this holy Virtue.

What is Virginity? It is to die to oneself, to the
world, and to all that the world holds dearest; to
deny yourself its pleasures, to separate yourself from
its vanities; to deprive yourself of the hope of liv-
ing in your children by your reproduction in them. It
is to subdue the strongest, the most deeply seated
and ineradicable feelings of the human heart : or,
rather, it is to purify, to elevate, to supernaturalize
these feelings. Of all the passions which control
our hearts and which make us capable of either great
good, or great evil, there is none more powerful,
none more impetuous and irresistible, than that of
love. Virginity, then, instead of allowing this pas-
sion to center itself upon any finite object or any
created beauty, raises it to the object in which alone
it can find full enjoyment: to love the Eternal, the
Infinite, the Uncreated beauty of the Creator. It is
easy to see the sacrifice this involves, the war that
this declares upon our senses and inclinations. Man
is fallen ; his passions tyrannize over his reason, and



344 ST. CECILIA

his reason obscured, is no longer in harmony with
the will of God. There is nothing in the world but
the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of
the eyes and the pride of life. All things within us
and around us: the corrupt motions of our hearts,
the temptations of the evil one, the fascinations of
the world, all allure us to sin. We have our free
will, it is true, our intellect is not wholly obscured,
grace is given us in abundance, we have the power
to overcome; but how hard is the contest, how un-
certain the event, how few the victors. And this is
the contest Virginity imposes. How true it is
that Virginity raises a man above himself ;
above his own nature and assimilates it to
the Angelic. Virginity exalts men even above
the Angels. If Angels are virgins it is
the condition of their nature; but when men are
virgins it is the result of their virtue; it is their vic-
tory over the flesh, the world and the devil ; and,
what is greater, it is their victory over themselves.
The Angels are pure spirits ; they are not weighed
down by this corrupt flesh and blood in which we
are tenanted ; they feel no law in their members war-
ring against the spirit and alluring them to sin.
Their virginity, then, is no victory over temptation,
over sin, over themselves. But with us how differ-
ent is it! Spirits indeed, but spirits incased in a sin-
ful body; and, since the fall, the flesh ever in conflict
with the spirit. The victory of the spirit of man
over his flesh is his triumph over sin and Satan.
Virginity, then, makes men, in a manner, superior
to the Angels. What higher encomium, therefore,
could be pronounced upon a creature than that of



ST. CECILIA 345

being a Virgin ; to say not only that he has tri-
umphed over his own corrupt nature, but that in so
doing he has exahed himself even above heavenly
spirits?

If Virginity is one of the brightest diamonds in
the crown of a Saint, it must be confessed that, in
the case of St. Cecilia, this diamond shines with a
splendor altogether singular, if not unequalled. And
this because of her extreme youth, the allurements
and temptations which surrounded her, and all the
other circumstances of her life. Born in the third
century of one of the most illustrious families of
pagan Rome, she was from her infancy instructed
in the doctrines and mysteries of Christianity. Al-
though her parents were pagans, they do not seem to
have opposed the attachment of their daughter to
the religion of Christ: which, although sorely perse-
cuted, was making a steady headway and gaining
strength in Rome, and had already found a lodg-
ment in the imperial palace and faithful adherents
in the company of its deadly foes. We are not told
in the Acts of her life or otherwise how she first
received knowledge of and early baptism in the
Christian Faith. Perhaps, then, as often happens
now, it was a Christian, zealous nurse or servant,
or converted relation, who first imparted to her the
saving knowledge of the Divine Spouse she w^as one
day to wed and for Whom she was one day to die.
Certain it is that the seed of the Word fell upon fer-
tile soil; and that no sooner w^as the Law of God
know^n than it was practiced with the utmost per-
fection and most fervent love. Living in the sump-
tuous palace of her family, — one of the noblest in



34^ ST. CECILIA

Roman annals, — surrounded on every side with a
society steeped in all the luxury and pomp, effemi-
nacy and immorality which then disgraced all
classes, high and low, she cultivated the highest and
purest Christian piety, loved God and man with
divinest charity and heroic virtue. The deeds of
valor and the emblazoned trophies of victories of
her ancestry commemorated on the w^alls of her
palace, and their civic virtues transmitted in their
country's annals, were incentives to make her suffer
for Christ: for if so much had been done and en-
dured by them for the world and its glory, how-
much more should not be done for God and His
Christ ! From her earliest youth, she had pledged
her virginity to God. In that age of the Church
martyrdom was almost a certainty for most, and
particularly for those whose Christian belief was
made conspicuous by rank, or wealth, or human en-
dowment. The alarming risk never caused her
alarm, nor withheld her from the performance of
Christian duty or the profession of her Christian
faith. She Vs'ould be only too willing to undergo
that which would immediately and forever unite her
to Jesus Christ, for Whom alone she lived. With
Him she held daily converse; for Him day and
night she sang the divine praises. And in these de-
votions she was the first, it is said, among Chris-
tians to employ the organ. It was her continual
prayer that God would make her His servant and
spouse ; that her heart might be undivided, her mind
dwelling exclusively upon Him; that her spirit
might be strengthened to withstand all human
blandishments and the fascination of the world.



ST. CECILIA 347

Yet, by parental control she yielded a consent — the
triumph of obedience — she accepted Valerian, who
for lustre of descent, and affluence, and personal
traits was unequalled in Rome. She had already,
as I have remarked, vowed that God alone should
possess her virginal heart, that it should never be
shared with any human spouse. For she knew that
such a vow, inspired by heaven, could be safe-
guarded by God, in a marriage entered into only
from parental deference and authority; that His
own inspiration would never be frustrated; that her
sacrifice, worthy of His own, would not be rendered
nugatory. She was at the time but young in years,
a mere child, tried by all the fascinations of the
world, and by all which renders the observance of
such a vow an exercise of heroic virtue; but her
guardian angel will preserve her pure and untouched
and untainted in the midst of the luxurious and
depraved society in which she must live. She is
proof against all the blandishments, the temptations,
and the seductive allurements of pagan society.
She closes her heart to every other love than that of
Jesus Christ. No worldly inducement, all human
fascinations cannot open it. Her alert vigilance
protects every sense ; she detects the approach of
danger even from afar, and arms herself. She
denies to herself all that most flatters the senses.
Temptations may assail, but cannot find lodgment
in her heart; consumed as it is with the love of
Christ, her invincible virtue overcomes every onset
of the flesh, the world, or the Evil One. The angels
of God watched over her; they protected her as a
tabernacle of the Deity. Daily was her prayer, "Be



34^ ST. CECILIA

Thou, O God, a seal upon my lieart ; be Thou a
shield against which sin and the world may spend
their force in vain." The Acts of her life as they
have come down to us, and to which we are indebted
for our statements and sentiments, afford abundant
proof of her holy life and angelic virtue.

But the time of trial is near at hand. One of
those trials that come in some form to everyone,
and on whose issue depends our temporal, and fre-
(juently our eternal happiness. She has pledged her
faith to her heavenly spouse. She will soon be
called upon to prove the sincerity and inviolability
of the espousal and the depth of the love which it
declares. One is to present himself to seek posses-
sion of her pure and noble heart. Her parents are
busying themselves about her marriage and settle-
ment in life. Cecilia, sprung from the noblest blood of
Rome, w'ith beauty and grace of person, which but
faintly reflected the hidden and heavenly beauty and
grace of her soul, was fitted for the most illustrious
and even royal alliance. Valerian, a pagan, but of
noble ancestry, of rare qualities of mind and body,
of the highest social rank, and, as the event showed,
of a disinterested disposition, w-as in all but his reli-
gion a fit suitor for the hand of our Saint. Cecilia
protested and remonstrated, but to no purpose. In
vain did she declare her espousal already contracted
wnth her heavenly Bridegroom, in vain did she urge
that she had already enthroned Jesus Christ in her
heart, with resolve of never superseding Him; that
she lived but for Him, and that to Him alone she
could be faithful. She might, indeed, love Valerian
as a brother, but never, never could he possess the
heart once wedded to her heavenly Spouse. But



ST. CECILIA 349

opposition was useless. The will of her parents was
peremptory and irresistible. She should espouse
Valerian.

We may imag-ine the anguish which filled her
faithful soul. She knew well that her guardian an-
gel, whom Christ appointed the custodian of her
virginity, would never abandon her. But yet, she
felt that she should employ all means to avert the
threatened danger. She renewed her prayers ; she
besought the Lord with redoubled vigor to bring her
safely through the perils that were gathering round
her, thick and fast. She concealed under her gar-
ments the instruments of her penances; and, like
David and all great penitents, she mortified and
overcome her flesh with rigorous fasts and daily
penances. She prayed, as the Church tells us, that
her heart and senses might persevere always pure
and unblemished ; and her chastity might be pre-
served inviolable. At length, after much praying,
long fasting, and cruel mortification, she is inspired
by her heavenly Spouse to receive the hand of Val-
erian ; that by so doing she would not expose her
virginity; that Valerian himself would be converted
and abide a virgin and die a martyr. Cecilia, with
tranquil heart and unfailing trust in the word and
power of Him who preserv^ed the three children in
the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lions' den, and
sustained constant through unheard-of tortures to a
cruel death the mother of the Maccabees and her
seven children, and the valiant old Jew, who sooner
than disgrace his gray hairs by eating of the meat
contrary to his conscience, met a death of surpassing
cruelty, consents to the marriage. The matrimonial



350 ST. CECILIA

rites are performed. When the ceremony and ban-
quet were over, and all the company had departed,
she addressed her husband, in the bridal chamber :
"My generous friend, I have a secret to confide to
thee; swear that thou wilt respect it." He gave his
assurance. ''Listen, then : I am under the care of an
angel, whom God has appointed protector of my
Virginity. If thou shouldst violate it, His anger
will be enkindled against thee, and thou wilt fall a
victim to His vengeance. If, on the other hand,
thou wilt respect it. He will favor thee with His
love and obtain for thee many blessings." Valerian
asked to see the angel : "If I recognize him as such,
I will comply with your request." Cecilia replied
that if he would see the angel, he must first believe
in the one true God and be regenerated in the foun-
tain of eternal life. At her request, he at once re-
paired to Pope St. Urban, then three miles outside
of the city in one of the catacombs, and having nar-
rated what Cecilia had said, was by him instructed
and baptized. Then it was that he was favored with
a vision of St. Paul, and on his return to Cecilia he
saw in her room the angel which she had promised,
his face resplendent with heavenly light. The
blessed spirit held in his hand two crowns, one of
which he placed upon the head of Cecilia, and the
other on Valerian. He then asked Valerian what
favor he desired for his acquiescence in the will of
Cecilia. He replied that nothing could be more de-
sired by him than that his brother Tiburtius should
be brought to know the truth and receive the ines-
timable grace of which he himself had been made a
partaker. The angel assented ; the favor was



ST. CECILIA 351

granted ; and Tiburtius from a stubborn pagan was
made a firm and docile Christian.

Thus Ceciha, all virgin as she was, became a
mother, a mother in the supernatural order. It was
from the divine love with which her heart was all
aflame that she brought forth Valerian and his
brother to her heavenly Spouse. Thus Cecilia tri-
umphed. She has proved herself true to her divine
Bridegroom. Her Virginity has been preserved in-
violate. Not only this ; but as the first fruits of that
Virginity she has made virgins of her husband and
his brother ; not only virgins, but martyrs.

We have spoken of virginity, we have sought to
speak its praise. We might have said that it is a
continued martyrdom. Such the saints and doctors
of the Church have called it, and justly. For by it
the body is subdued and sacrificed to- the spirit, and
made subject to reason. While it may be questioned
whether it deserves the name of martyrdom, in the
highest and proper meaning of the word, it cannot
be doubted that it is a most effectual preparation for
martyrdom. The virgin, with his heart long since
detached from this world, and insensible to its
charms, feels no great difficulty in leaving it ; having
no earthly spouse or children to whom his heart
may cling, or whose orphanage may cause him anx-
iety, he longs ardently for union with the heavenly
Spouse, Whom he has wedded. Having long since
died to this life that he might live for God alone, he
looks upon death as the termination of his suffer-
ings, the beginning of his happiness, the consum-
mation of his hopes; having long since suppressed
the tenderest feelings of his heart, the strongest ten-



352 ST. CECILIA

dencies of his nature, having, in a word, overcome
this world by his faith and conquered himself, he
finds but little reluctance in finishing the sacrifice,
and in dying for a God Who did not refuse to die
for him.

Would that I could speak to you worthily of the
glories of martyrdom! of the glory of dying for
God ! Would that I could make you understand the
untold agony of mind, the inexpressible torture of
body which is the portion of the martyr. Would
that I could describe to you the depth and intensity
of the love which alone is equal to the endurance
of such sufferings. But I cannot. Words
are wanting; power of description is wanting.
What glory can surpass, or even stand in
comparison with, the glory of the martyr?
what greater glory than that of dying for
God ! what sufferings greater than those which he
endures ! What love can equal his ? "Greater love
than this no one hath than that he lay down his life
for his friend." Greater love than this no one hath
than that he lay down his life for his God. We have
contemplated the sufferings of our Divine Lord.
We have been profoundly moved in reading and
dwelling upon the details of His Passion and Death.
We have melted with compassion and love as we
beheld Him prostrate in the Garden of Gethsemane,
overcome by the sins and ingratitude of men; and
drenched with the Blood issuing from His Sacred
Heart and overflowing His veins. With hearts at
once overpowered with His love and broken with
the upbraidings of our conscience, because we know
it is our work, — our sins have done it, — we have



ST. CECILIA 353

seen Him nailed to the Cross and dying upon it.
And we have concluded that there can be no greater
love than the love of God, and no greater sufferings
than those by which He manifested it. Far be it
from me to compare the sufferings of the martyrs
with the sufferings of Christ. Christ was made for
suffering, and hence was formed with an organiza-*
tion so delicate, so sensitive, so keenly alive to pain,
that all the sufferings of the martyrs could not equal
the torments and agony of Christ. Yet, there is a
point at which Christ's sufferings and the martyr's
meet. Man could not suffer to the extent that Christ
suffered, for He suffered all human sufferings, not
in their different species, but in their genus, or
generically viewed. Nor could man suffer that su-
preme or greatest possible suffering, which St.
Thomas, enumerating all the heads of suffering en-
dured by Christ, claims was endured by Him. But
man could suffer to the capacity of his nature; and
this the martyrs did. And what more can man do
than exhaust the capacity of his nature? God could
do no more to prove His love for man than to die
for him. What more can man do to requite this
love than sacrifice his life amidst the horrors of mar-
tyrdom ? God can do no more than die. Man can
do no more than die. The glory of martyrdom,
great in all, is unspeakably increased when it is en-
dured by woman, especially when endured at an age
when the delicacy and tenderness of the body ren-
ders pain almost unendurable. Such was the case
with our Saint.

Cecilia was too well known in Rome by the lustre
of her origin, the beauty of her person, the fame



354 ST. CECILIA

of her virtues, and, more than all, by her open pro-
fession of Christianity, to escape the observation of
those to whom was committed the task of destroy-
ing the Christian name. Besides, the recent mar-
tyrdom of her husband and brother had riveted at-
tention upon her. The lictor, however, out of re-
gard for her rank, wished to spare her the igno-
miny of a public trial, and sent messengers who were
to require from her the abjuration of her Faith.
They presented themselves, announcing their errand.
But so wonderfully are they overcome by the spirit
of God dwelHng in Cecilia and manifested in her
every look and demeanor, that they returned be-
lieving and declaring that she, indeed, adores the
true God ; and wishing at once to be enrolled among
the faithful. Even as the Jews who went to Calvary
to mock the Son of God returned striking their
breasts and declaring that He was, indeed, the Son
of God; so these pagans, failing in their purpose
of extorting from Cecilia the renunciation of her
Faith, returned, abandoning the worship of gods in
wood and stone; and eagerly craving to be regen-
erated in the fountain of salvation ; a blessing which
they, with four hundred companions, a few days
after received at the hands of Pope Urban, and in
the presence of Cecilia.

The lictor, perceiving the futility of his project
to have Cecilia sacrificed privately to the gods of
the Empire, determined to bring her to a public trial
in his presence. She appeared; she was subjected
to a long and searching scrutiny. To all the inter-
rogations put her concerning her Faith, she replied
with the modesty of a virgin, yet with the firmness



ST. CECILIA 355

of a martyr and an ability worthy of a Doctor of
the Church. Triumphantly did she brand the ma-
terialism of the age which worshiped gods of wood
and brass. With an inspiration which martyrs only
feel when brought before kings and princes for their
Master's name, she asserted the Unity and Trinity
of God, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Immor-
tality of the soul, and its future eternity of bliss or
woe, and the other great truths which she was about
to seal with her blood.

She was condemned to death. To avoid any
tumult which might be occasioned by the execution
of so noble a patrician lady, endeared to the pagans
themselves for the lustre of her ancestry and the
fame of her beauty, and to Christians as being the
model of Christian excellence, the very exemplar of
the loftiest virtue, the lictor commanded that she
should be scorched to death in her own palace. She
was to be confined in her bathroom, heated intensely,
until suffocated, and, so to speak, boiled or scorched
to death. Cecilia, rejoicing that she had been ac-
counted worthy to die for Christ, elated at the pros-
pect of being so soon united to her Spouse, joyfully
entered the scorching chamber. For days she re-
mained therein without experiencing the slightest
inconvenience or pain. The fiery atmosphere she
breathed did not produce even the slightest mois-
ture upon her skin. The heat seemed to lose its
power when it approached her holy body. Even as
the three children were preserved unscathed in the
Babylonian furnace and were refreshed with a
heavenly dew, so Cecilia, divinely preserved, over-
came the forces of nature and emerged from the oven



35^ ST. CECILIA

uninjured. ^lay we not say that the fire of divine
charity which burned in her heart was greater than
the material fire which it overcame? Vainly did the
ministers of the lictor increase the fire; vainly were
belched into the chamber augmented volumes of
boiling vapor. It was at length necessary to resort
to the sword of the executioner. She laid her neck
under the uplifted sword with a calmness that be-
spoke the peace of the soul within, and with an
eagerness that showed how she longed to shed her
blood for Christ. The w^ork is done. ' The sacrifice
is completed. She is struck three times; but yet the
head is not severed from the body. The executioner,
forbidden by the law^s to inflict a fourth blow, with-
draws from the room. Cecilia is stretched upon
the floor, bathed in her blood. She lingers for three
days. She has asked from her Spouse this delay to
enable her to see His Vicar, St. Urban.

Awaiting his arrival, she distributes her goods to
the poor, she exhorts the neophytes she has made to
perseverance. She points out to them the crown
woven of the lilies of virginity and the roses of
martyrdom which is hanging over her. At length
the Holy Pontiff enters the chamber. Cecilia gazed
at him with ineffable sweetness. ''Father," she said,
*T asked this delay of three days from our Lord
that I might place in your hands my last treasure;



Online LibraryJohn McQuirkSermons and discourses (Volume 3) → online text (page 23 of 43)