Friday, April 1, 2011


I just realized it's been WAY too long since I've posted to this blog!  I only posted my story about Philomena on the other blog, even though it has a grand place here on this one.  So, here it is:
Introducing our daughter, Philomena Sebastian Gracia. One of the things that I love about my faith is the opportunity to connect with people throughout time—others of the “Church militant” still making our way on earth, and mentors of the “Church triumphant” who have succeeded in making it to heaven. Nothing gives me hope quite like the knowledge that others, just as flawed as I, have made it.

Philomena. Six years ago, after investigations and archaeological debates that lasted most of the 20th Century, scientists confirmed that in the year 202 a small girl roughly 13 years old was buried in the
Catacomb of St. Priscilla beneath Rome; buried with honors bestowed only on the Church’s martyrs of those early years: a small glass vial containing an amount of her blood and a shard of bone to represent violent death.

fresco painting of Mary, Jesus and a prophet in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla

Tiles sealing her grave were inscribed pax tecum filomena (Peace to you, Filomena), and symbols of virginity and martyrdom were engraved. Within three years of the tomb’s discovery, miracles accumulated.

“She became the only person recognized by the Church as a Saint solely on the basis of her powerful intercession, since nothing historical was known of her except her name and the evidence of her martyrdom.”

Like her namesake, our daughter Philomena is herself unknown to the world, but her good work on God’s behalf shines. She inspired love among our friends, gave us a sense of clarity and simplicity, and most importantly, she brought her sisters and brother so close to us by her short life and death. She easily brought our family to a higher level of understanding that I have been praying for for years.

I know some people who follow this blog aren’t Catholic, and a post like this is probably not usual for your faith. In my muddled words I know I risk more confusion than less. By “saint” (small “s”) Catholics mean anyone who is in heaven, including angels and people who have died and gone to paradise.

symbols of martyrdom (archor) and Christianity (fish, and Chi Rho) engraved on a tile from the Catacomb of St. Sebastian
symbols of martyrdom (archor) and Christianity (fish, and Chi Rho) engraved on a tile from the Catacomb of St. Sebastian

Since we’re not privy to the state of a person’s soul at the time of death—indeed, it’s even difficult to know ourselves well enough as that!—it’s very difficult to know for certain whether or not a soul is in heaven. So the Church dedicates such careful personal, scientific, medical, societal and prayerful study before recognizing (canonizing) a person with the title “Saint.”

The idea of God in His generosity assigning tasks to saints (people and angels) is found throughout the Bible. Personally I look at it as a joyful prospect that if I make it to heaven, I’ll be able to serve God with the surety that what I’m doing is exactly what He wants me to do! No more uncertainty about what’s best. I can get my instructions straight from the source. I think God has written into human nature the desire to accomplish good things, and that type of positive desire certainly must increase with closeness to God. Maybe in heaven I’ll even be able to communicate without the danger of misspeaking, which is always a trick of the devil when humans on earth converse!

Back to the practical difficulty in determining whether people’s souls are in heaven. In 1587 the Office of the Devil’s Advocate was established to disprove miracles and disqualify people from official canonization. Hence our popular name for someone who in good faith tries to ensure that his peers’ positive thinking doesn’t obscure reality. Although the name of the Vatican department recently changed, the office remains assigned to ensure that the Church doesn’t inadvertently encourage people to communicate with someone not in heaven! It’s only after passing all of the tests that sainthood can be acknowledged.

Why bother, when we can go straight to God? At its core, communication with saints in heaven is because love is inclusive. I remember the first time a priest described the relationship between people on earth and in heaven as “inclusive,” but that idea took a long time to sink in. God loves people past, present and future as His children, and the nature of fatherly love means He wants us to love each other. I think of when I met my stepkids. They love my husband, I love him, and we sit around a table together. Should each child and I keep our eyes on him alone, and avoid speaking to each other? Does it detract from our love towards him when the kids look to me for an example—or when they speak to each other before jointly laying a question before my husband? In coming to each other, are we denying Raul’s place as leader? How silly! Of course our love for my husband only grows as his kids and I develop relationships with each other. It illuminates more of him. Love is inclusive.

When I lost little Philomena, my oldest stepdaughter suggested that when I find a penny, I think of it as a gift from my little angel. Since then I’ve found pennies in usual and unusual places, from a cafe carpet to the thumb of a pair of gloves. Each time, my thoughts include little Philomena and my tender-hearted stepdaughter. Thank you, Kayla, and pax tecum, Philomena.

-Michelle Gracia

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