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Lessons in Sainthood


I chose St. Cecilia as my confirmation saint when I was only thirteen years old.  I can’t remember what drew me to her, but I know I didn’t recognize the significance of her martyrdom at my young age.

Church Tradition tells us that St. Cecilia was a noblewoman whose parents arranged her marriage to a wealthy nobleman, Valerian.  He was a pagan, but Cecilia’s love for Christ inspired him to convert.  Valerian lived his newfound faith publicly in a time of persecution, so along with his converted brother, he was sentenced to death.  Cecilia was taken by the Romans soon after their execution.


She refused to recount her faith and was ordered to be suffocated in the baths.  However, she survived. When her executioner attempted to behead her, his sword slipped three times on her neck and she was left to bleed to death.  It took three days for her to die from her wounds, and is said to have been praying the whole time, despite her agony.

Her martyrdom is memorialized by a marble statue in the beautiful church built in her honor in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome.  Most believe that the house under the church was her actual home, and that after her death it was used by other Christians as a place to worship.  Cecilia is often shown in art with an organ, a harp, or another musical instrument though no substantial evidence has been found to prove her musical talents.


Picture from my visit to her church in Rome

As I’ve grown up I have come to admire her strength, courage, and witness to her faith.  Sometimes when I focus on my own sinfulness I find myself despairing. How can I, with all my mistakes, ever compare to any of the saints?


Picture from my visit to her church in Rome

I may not be called to Christian martyrdom, but I am called to be a witness to my faith like Cecilia.  As a missioner, I live my faith publicly through my actions and words.  Coming into a Guatemalan community as a white North American, I will obviously stand out as a newcomer.  Cecilia inspires me because she lived her faith joyfully, spreading the Gospel even as she lay dying.  Her witness and presence inspired hundreds of people to convert.

As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI expressed so well, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”  Formation has prepared me for the difficulties of mission.  Christ never promised that my cross would be easy to carry, but neither was it for Jesus carrying his cross.  As He refused to drop His cross, I will refuse to drop mine.

Maeve Gilheney-Gallagher is a returned lay missioner with Franciscan Mission Service who served for two years at Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She currently serves on the FMS Board and works as the Global Solidarity Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Mission. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Dan, and three-legged dog, Lola.