Sunday, November 4, 2012

Reposting from Causes for Joy: Dominican Saints and Saints-To-Be

Advent is a season of holy longing, and there is no better example of this than Blessed Imelda Lambertini, OP, a saintly child named patroness of first communicants.

Imelda was born in Bologna, Italy in 1322 to a family of some local importance--the counts of Lambertini. Her family's importance might more rightly be attributed, however, to its contributions to the Catholic community, for it had given the Church a Dominican preacher, a Franciscan mother foundress, and a foundress of a convent of strict observance. One might say that the spirit of renewal, represented by the Dominican and Franciscan Orders (among others), was moving within the Lambertini family full force.

Like the great doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux, Imelda was much beloved by her family. It is said that she learned to read from the Psalter (the prayer book of the Church made up of the Psalms of King David), and that she went to Mass daily, and even attended Compline (night prayer) at the Dominican church nearby.

Like so many holy children, it was Imelda's mother who set the good example. Her mother taught Imelda to sew, to cook for the poor, and to do acts of charity. Not surprisingly, when she was only nine years old, Imelda asked permission to enter the Dominican convent at Val di Pietra. The request was a sad one, only because Imelda was the only child of her parents. Nevertheless, her mother and father permitted her to leave them and begin life at the convent.

Although the sisters accepted the child into their community, allowing her to wear the Dominican habit and to participate in Office (the official times of prayer for the community), Imelda's participation was limited. Because of her age, she was not permitted to attend the midnight Office of prayer, nor to receive Holy Communion.

These restrictions were good for the child, as they caused her to develop a keen desire--a holy longing--to receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. When her first Christmas in community came without the permission to receive Communion, it was a hard blow to her young heart, which naturally hoped the spirit of the season would melt the mother superior's strictness. Undaunted, she continued her prayer, and her longing intensified.

When our whole being--spirit, soul, body--unites perfectly in prayer, we call that "storming the gates of heaven"--and it is believed that this is what was happening for this blessed girl. We must remember that Imelda, being a child, had some advantages. Freed from all anxiety from the outside world, growing up in an environment of prayer and contemplation and communal support, her young mind with its active imagination alive with hope, could fix itself in a singular way on God. Thus, as much as some children fixate on petty things of the world, like toys and games, Imelda fixated on the Blessed Sacrament.

Heaven was happy to answer the prayers of Imelda on the morning of the Vigil of the Ascension. Although she was still denied permission to receive Communion by the chaplain of the convent, her prayer was unshaken. It is said she remained in her place at choir after Mass was completed. The sister sacristan, who was cleaning up suddenly heard a sound and when she turned around, there was a Host, shrouded in light, suspended in the air above the child's head. The sister immediately ran to fetch the chaplain, who returned (along with a crowd of curious sisters) to distribute the Host of Imelda.

As if that were not enough, the story takes an even stranger direction. After leaving the child alone to make her thanksgiving prayers, the sister returned only to discover that Blessed Imelda was dead. On her face was a smile of joy. Her love was so great that when her holy longing had been fulfilled, she lacked nothing else and so gave up her spirit to enter heaven to be with Christ for eternity.

The record of Blessed Imelda's life--the concrete proof of her existence--were unfortunately lost when the community she lived in eventually disappeared from existence (I had read somewhere that the convent had burned down). That said, her incorruptible body may be viewed in a church in Bologna, Italy. Miracles through her intercession are known to have happened, as well, resulting in her beatification by Pope Leo XII in 1826. As recent as 1928, a religious sister in Spain dying of meningitis is said to have been completely cured through Blessed Imelda's intercession. And so we pray for the canonization of this little child whose single-minded devotion teaches us--especially at this time of Advent--to train our hearts to long for God's love alone.
Br. Paul Byrd, OP

"Blessed Imelda Lambertini" from St. Dominic's Family by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy, OP

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