Friday, March 20, 2009

Turning Tables in the Kingdom of God: Saint Lea

This Sunday, March 22nd, is the feast day of one of the little-known saints in the Church, Saint Lea. I was intrigued by Palabra, Vida y Fe’s little comment on her – that she was someone who participated in scripture study with St. Jerome (the patron saint of librarians!) and as a result of his prodding, changed from the life of a wealthy and somewhat dissolute slave-owning matron to one of prayer, abstinence and dedication to the affairs of God. I guess that’s what a little Bible study can do for us if we really take the Good Book to heart.

The life of St. Lea is known to us only through the writings of St. Jerome, who speaks of her in a letter to St. Marcella, leader of a quasi monastic women’s community in her residence on Aventino. Lea was from a noble family. Widowed at a young age, she entered Marcella’s community, where they studied the scriptures and prayed together, living in chastity and poverty. With this choice, Lea turned her way of life upside down. Marcella had total confidence in her -- so much so that she was entrusted with the task of training the young in the life of faith and the practice of quiet, secret charity. St. Lea eventually became the superior of the community.

St. Jerome wrote these words about St. Lea after her death in 384, comparing her to a wealthy consul who also died:

"Who will praise the blessed Lea as she deserves? She renounced painting her face and adorning her head with shining pearls. She exchanged her rich attire for sackcloth, and ceased to command others in order to obey all. She dwelt in a corner with a few bits of furniture; she spent her nights in prayer, and instructed her companions through her example rather than through protests and speeches. And she looked forward to her arrival in heaven in order to receive her recompense for the virtues which she practiced on earth.

"So it is that thence forth she enjoyed perfect happiness. From Abraham's bosom, where she resides with Lazarus, she sees our consul who was once decked out in purple, now vested in a shameful robe, vainly begging for a drop of water to quench his thirst. Although he went up to the capital to the plaudits of the people, and his death occasioned widespread grief, it is futile for the wife to assert that he has gone to heaven and possesses a great mansion there. The fact is that he is plunged into the darkness outside, whereas Lea who was willing to be considered a fool on earth, has been received into the house of the Father, at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

"Hence, I tearfully beg you to refrain from seeking the favors of the world and to renounce all that is carnal. It is impossible to follow both the world and Jesus. Let us live a life of renunciation, for our bodies will soon be dust and nothing else will last any longer."

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