Wednesday, January 27, 2010

For All the Saints: Angela Merici, Virgin

As husband and father, I sometimes find the notion of virginity perplexing—impressive in its total commitment to Christ, but also pretty hard to fathom. St. Angela, featured in today’s Office of Readings, is listed as “Angela Merici, Virgin.” This, and the beautiful reading itself, reminded me happily of supper last night.

Katie and I were guests of the Memores Domini house in Boston’s North End. Within the larger world of Communion and Liberation, Memores Domini is a subset of lay people who have consecrated themselves to Christ by taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. It’s a sort of third order with ultimate commitment: These folks work in the world as PhD’s, MD’s, and the like, while living communally (sharing their financial resources) as virgins. Although they cannot perform the sacraments, they otherwise live like priests and religious, without collars or habits, invisibly to you and me, but with a profound effect on us.

I can testify to this effect. It was Katie’s birthday, and two of the guys had conspired, unbeknownst to me, to gather other Memores folks for a five-course celebration, plus two courses of wine, plus homemade cheesecake, plus pineapple flambée—the pièce de résistance, requiring all lights to be extinguished, et cetera, et cetera—everything done with a great sense of humor. The whole thing came off perfectly in the Boston Memores house, a converted rectory shared by five or six guys, all Italian by birth and brilliant by the evidence. (That’s one of the convincing things about CL: these men and women are faithful, hopeful, charitable, yes, but also, as Frank would say, dang smart.)

Memores women live in their own houses, but one of them, a lovely 28-year-old PhD candidate in medieval history from Rutgers, was a special and especially radiant guest. Like many Italians in CL, she is from Milano, home to Don Giussani until his death in 2005. St. Angela was born in 1470 in Desenzano, only about a 90-minute drive from Milano. After losing her sight, having it miraculously restored, and founding the Ursuline Sisters, St. Angela died in 1540 at Brescia, which is a bit closer to Milano. Her relics and incorrupt body are today at the Church of St. Afra in Brescia.

Excerpts from today’s reading, from the Spiritual Testament by St. Angela, are a perfect reflection of the spirit of charity Katie and I experienced last night:

Mothers and sisters most dear to me in Christ: in the first place strive with all your power and zeal to be open. With the help of God, try to receive such good counsel that, led solely by the love of God and an eagerness to save souls, you may fulfill your charge. 

Only if the responsibilities committed to you are rooted firmly in this twofold charity will they bear beneficial and saving fruit. As our Savior says: A good tree is not able to produce bad fruit.

He says: A good tree, that is, a good heart as well as a soul inflamed with charity, can do nothing but good and holy works. For this reason, Saint Augustine said: Love, and do what you will, namely, possess love and charity and then do what you will. It is as if he had said: Charity is not able to sin....

Typical of Memores Domini, the young lady from Rutgers proved to be as brilliant as she is radiant. Already a published author, she is working on her second book, about an unknown 14th-century merchant who built a spectacular fortune in international trade, then gave it all for the construction of a cathedral. From such charity, such radiance, brilliant things arise.