Friday, November 16, 2012
Lucy of Narnia, O.P.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, while there are many characters dear to the heart of Aslan, the Great Lion and Redeemer of Narnia, Son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, but perhaps none is dearer than Lucy Pevensie. It was she who, first among the Pevensie children, entered into Narnia through the Wardrobe; she saw, and believed. It was she who held to the truth of that experience even when not even she was able to reenter Narnia, even when tormented by her brother Edmund, who entered Narnia on Lucy's second trip there but then betrayed her and claimed to have made it all up as a game, and even when her oldest siblings, Peter and Susan, at first only indulged her claims, but then insisted that she behave and cease speaking of it. After their initial adventures into Narnia, and their living there as Kings and Queens, when the four would return again in Narnia's future, it was Lucy, and Lucy alone, who was able to see Aslan at first, and although she initially refrained from going to him because of her siblings' insistence that she did not see what she claimed to have seen, it was she who eventually would meet up with Aslan, and so restore the faith of all of the children that he had indeed returned.
Despite the marvelous coincidence of names, today's feast is not a remembrance of the fictional character invented by C.S. Lewis, but rather of a flesh and blood Dominican tertiary, Lucia Brocadelli, who was born in the town of Narnia, now called Narni, in the hills of Umbria, nearly in the geographic center of the Italian peninsula. Like Lewis' fictional character, Lucy, in her tender youth, saw our Lord when others did not, and pledged herself to him, even when those about her, wishing her the best they knew, sought instead to have her married. Although she tried for a time to yield to her uncle's wishes and did marry, her husband, at least for a time, indulged her desire to maintain her vow of chastity for the sake of Christ, as well as her many acts of asceticism and generosity to the poor. He even indulged her claims to have frequent discourse with the saints who, unseen by him, she claimed to be seen clearly by herself. When her finally could not accept that she kept the company of a beautiful man, who was none other than Jesus Christ, her husband had her locked up for an entire Lent, and when she fled at Easter and became a Dominican tertiary, her husband had the convent of the Dominican friar who had received her burned to the ground.
Both Lucy Pevensie and Lucy Brocadelli remind us of important truths of the Christian life. For both of them, the capacity to see and receive the Lord came, at least in part, from their innocence, their purity of heart, their willingness to receive gladly the world as it is, in all of its wonder and mystery. At the same time, both of them saw the Lord, and Lucia even received the stigmata, only by way of a gift. Innocent as they were, they also knew that their innocence, and the vision of the Lord which came as a result, was not an accomplishment, but a grace, not a reason for boasting in themselves, but rather for boasting in the Lord. Finally, even though both acquiesced for a time to balance the desires of their families with the visitations of the Lord, they came to see that only by placing the Lord first, only by pursuing the Lord Jesus without regard for others' misunderstanding, or even cruelty, would be able to set things right.
In the end, Lucy's siblings came to see Aslan, and even her brother Edmund came to be, through his forgiveness, wiser for the experience. Lucia, likewise, came to be highly valued, if even fought over, not for her hand in marriage, but for her presence and insight, and in time her husband Pietro would also enter into a life of religion, becoming in time a Franciscan friar. We do not, any of us, know the fate of those dear to us. Like the wise virgins with their lamps, the grace we have received from God we cannot portion out to others. It is a gift of God to us, and if it is to do our fellows any good, then it can only be by way of example, by living out our encounter with Jesus Christ so authentically that others will become imitators of us, and so, we hope, in good time seek the oil to trim their lamps, and so greet with rejoicing rather than regret, the coming of the Bridegroom.