The Obedience of St Cecilia

I was surprised to read this on Twitter today:

‘She (St Cecilia, whose feastday this is) was one of those strong souls for whom it costs nothing to obey the voice of God.’ Père Adolphe Roulland, MEP

Quite apart from the mere detail of its having cost Cecilia her life, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has found obedience to God entirely easy or undemanding. We have to make an effort to listen, and for most of us, most of the time, that means renunciation of some other good so that we can pay attention to the Lord. Frequently, it means choosing something we find hard or difficult. Even St Benedict reserves to the twelfth step of humility the less stressful obedience born of long experience and practice — and Cecilia was about twelve when she was martyred (cf RB 7. 67–70). Those of us who are not the stuff of which martyrs are made have an additional difficulty. We are not very good at assuring ourselves that the promises made us can be relied upon. I know that I am a coward. Faced with the choice between dying for Christ and living on with some sort of accommodation to whatever was asked of me, I have a horrible feeling I would opt to live on.

Happily, it doesn’t all depend on us. Leave grace out of the equation and the Church would have no martyrs, no heroes or heroines of faith. Whatever challenges today presents us with, it is worth remembering that grace is all around. We may not be called to martyrdom in the sense of dying for Christ, but we are all called to witness to him. Grace will be given as and when we need it. We have only to ask.


7 thoughts on “The Obedience of St Cecilia”

  1. I think we all want to cling on to life but I’ve recently heard something encouraging. A friend’s father was dying with family around him. He had been non verbal for years with Alzheimers, and didn’t recognise anyone. As he died he opened his eyes, looked up and exclaimed, “WOW!!”

  2. Père Roulland [MEP — of the Missions Étrangères de Paris] originally made the remark you quote, not about St Cecilia, but about St Thérèse of the Child Jesus, in the course of his deposition to the latter’s pre-beatification hearings of 1911. ‘À qui rien ne coûte…’ : it’s a disconcerting comment to make about either of these saints — the Roman martyr or the French Carmelite. I suspect that Roulland had been been put off the scent by the characteristic childlikeness of Thérèse’s letters to him. But never mind that. I am with you completely in what you go on to write : ‘I know that I am a coward … Happily, it doesn’t all depend on us … grace is all around.’ Thank you. After all, Thérèse on her deathbed said that ‘tout est grâce’.

      • St Thérèse is also the one, who wrought about the command to lend without expecting repayment, “rather, I should say it seems hard,” but that it is really easy once one does it, for “His yoke is easy and His burden is light.” I disagree with the phrase, “one of those strong souls” – and I think St Thérèse of the Child Jesus would have disliked that phrase also, she saw herself as everything except great, the littlest of the little – but otherwise I think the quote is good enough, and I think St Thérèse – for all her battle with doubt – would concur that obeying God really cost her nothing. Certainly, except for the part about being “strong” it is something I would not mind having said about myself – whatever occurs to me in this life, whatever death I die, at whatever age, I do not want anyone to call me either “strong” (except as the grace of God makes the weakest strong with Divine strength – not as one of those who are strong, as opposed to one of those who are weak) and I do not want anyone to ever suggest that obeying God cost me anything. I believe all the saints, rejoicing before the throne of God, would see it that way – they never paid a cost; the things they counted once as gain, THOSE are the ones they count as cost.

        • Thank you. My post is about St Cecilia, not St Thérèse, so I was surprised to find Père Roulland’s quotation about St Thérèse applied to her. I’m sorry to say I’m not yet holy — obedience does cost me, sometimes it has cost me a great deal; and while that is as nothing to the wonderful graces God has also lavished upon me, it would not be honest to deny the other side. St Benedict expressly tells the novice master/mistress to warn the aspiring monk or nun of the dura et aspera, the hard and difficult things, by which we go to God (RB 58.8), and although St Cecilia was martyred long before St Benedict wrote his rule, I think she probably experienced a great deal of both. I ask the prayers of all three saints, for I certainly know what it is to be weak and wobbly.

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