Sunday, December 09, 2012

Advent, and my New Patron Saint

Advent has long held a deep attraction for me. Can't even say when it began, or why, other than the fact that God has been calling me, I guess. And every year I feel like I am understanding it for the first time. It is no different now. It is difficult to put this into words, but this year I am getting the sense of how Advent teaches us that God comes through, He is faithful, He makes good on His promises. (Such dull, lifeless words compared with what is in my heart...) It is the beginning of the liturgical year, and we begin with this meditation on how God fulfilled the thousands of years of yearning of His people with the Messiah. And from there we get blown away by how God decided to come through, the Incarnation. But that's another story...

Last Saturday I went to the Random Saint Generator for my long-awaited new patron saint of the year. You basically click twice and yet get a random saint's name. Oh, but I had been praying about this "random" saint, asking God to match me up well, and to prepare my heart well. I take this pretty seriously. Up popped the name: Bl. Alexandrina Maria da Costa. I confess, my first reaction was along the lines of "Gee, I didn't even get a full-fledged saint, just a blessed..." I had never heard of this woman.

I proceeded to read her short biography:
On Holy Saturday of 1918, Alexandrina Maria da Costa, a fourteen-year-old native of Balasar, Portugal, was sewing when three men broke into her home, threatening to violate her chastity. Resolute to preserve her purity, she fled by jumping out a window. The thirteen-foot plunge to the ground crippled her for life. At the age of twenty-one, she became totally paralyzed and permanently bedridden. Alexandrina accepted this affliction as God’s will for her and an opportunity to offer herself totally as a “victim soul” for the conversion of sinners. For a period of three and a half years, she received the mystical gift of experiencing each Friday the pains of Christ on the cross. For thirteen years, she was imbued with the mystical phenomenon of being nourished solely by the Eucharist. Out of zeal to convert sinners, Alexandrina requested for her tombstone these words: “Sinners, how much I want to tell you…Do not risk losing Jesus for all eternity, for he is so good. Enough with sin. Love Jesus, love him!” On October 13, 1955, before breathing her last, Alexandrina declared, “I am happy, because I am going to heaven.”
I read further and found this:  

She had a special calling to a life of suffering. It all began with her tragic escape while defending her chastity. Her via crucis began then and it involved extreme detachment and total sacrifice. The Lord said to her: “Rarely will you feel comfort. Very rarely, until the end of your life; your heart will live in pain [...] but you will have a smile on your lips.” And she willingly accepted this plan, both the pain and the witnessing of joy. One of her moving pleas was: “Put a smile on my lips, dear Lord, a deceiving smile!” In fact, visitors were struck by her joy and ignorant of how much she suffered. Only a few were able to fathom the suffering she hid behind her smile.
Now, I certainly know that I am not called to become my patron saint, but I have to say that after I read a bit about her I was shaking for an hour or so. I can't fully explain why, and I won't even partially venture it. All I know is that my response was a wholehearted, "Lord, I don't have to understand. But I am here, and You may have or do whatever You wish." This was not a prayer of sweet, tender affection, this was a prayer of being utterly terrified at the awesome presence and reality of God. It's all so hard to explain. That's why I won't try.

I might sound to a random reader like I was superstitiously freaking out over this. But, my dear random reader, I'm not really writing for you. I'm writing for me, so that I can remember the steps the Lord has drawn me through. I know that along with this moment that struck me like this was a completely new sense of hope, of promise, of Advent fulfillment of God's desires in and for me. But, as always, it is beyond my comprehension.

I was telling an acquaintance of mine about this episode with my patron saint the other day, and the quote about her life of suffering, and found myself belly-laughing with joy over it. And at the same time I realized that the struggle this acquaintance was relating to me from her own life was something that God has spent considerable time working with me on as well. Long and short of it: I realize God has given me something that other people need. It is His stuff. I think this means He will work out a way to move what He gave me, through me, to other people. He's got a plan. He's working His plan. And I don't have to understand in order to participate in it. I'll know in time those things that I need to know.

Man, sometimes it is hard to write meaningfully about ineffable things. But if I've learned anything, it is that some day it will all make more sense than it does now.

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