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God doesn’t love halfheartedly. He gives His heart wholly, completely, totally to us and for our salvation. He asks that our response is to trust Him completely, love Him entirely. But one of the things that’s striking about the Little Way is the realization that each of us has a different capacity for trust. That can grow or diminish according to our participation (or lack of participation) with His will. But He doesn’t expect us to give more than we’re capable of giving.
St. Therese writes in Story of a Soul:
“Once I was surprised that God didn’t give equal glory to all the Elect in heaven, and I was afraid all would not be perfectly happy. Pauline told me to fetch Papa’s large tumbler and set it alongside my thimble and filled both to the brim with water. She asked me which one was fuller. I told her each was as full as the other and that it was impossible to put in more water than they could contain. My dear Mother helped me understand that in heaven God will grant His Elect as much glory as they can take, the last having nothing to envy in the first.”
Another little saint who exemplifies this trusting, total love of God is St. Philomena. Though she was martyred in the year 304, St. Philomena was completely unknown until the discovery of her tomb in 1802.
The story from that point gets beautifully weird.
Shortly after the discovery of her tomb, miracle after miracle was attributed to her intercession in the city of Mugnano, Italy. In the midst of these powerful miracles, Philomena appeared to three different individuals in visions and dictated her life to them. These individuals all received the same information about Philomena’s historical identity.
According to these dictations, Philomena was a Greek princess, the daughter of a king who converted to Christianity. She made a vow of virginity at a young age. But during a royal visit, the emperor Diocletian decided he wanted to marry her. Her parents, out of fear for their people, urged her to renounce her vow of virginity and marry the emperor.
Philomena refused. So Diocletian had her imprisoned and tortured. At one point, he had her scourged, in order that she might suffer like her Spouse. Rather than renouncing her faith, her witness resulted in the conversion of many within the prison.
When she continued to refuse marriage, it was ordered that an anchor be chained around her neck, and she be thrown into the Tiber River. After this was done, God sent two angels to unfasten the anchor and carry her back to shore in the sight of all present. Many converted immediately.
Next, she was shot with a shower of arrows and fell into ecstasy. Thinking her on the verge of death, she was transported back to prison. But when she was found to be unharmed, she was ordered to be shot with arrows again. This time the arrows refused to hurt her. So Diocletian ordered that the tips of the arrows be heated in a furnace and directed at her heart. The arrows turned around and hit several of the archers instead, which resulted in even more conversions.
Finally, her neck was pierced with a lance, and Philomena, in her own words, says, “My soul took flight toward my Heavenly Spouse, who placed me with the crown of virginity and the palm of martyrdom in a distinguished place among the Elect.” She was thirteen years old when she was rewarded with the double crown of virginity and martyrdom.
In all of the persecutions she endured, St. Philomena leaned into absolute trust in her Divine Spouse. She knew her littleness. She understood her own inadequacy to stand up to the trials she faced. So she placed her trust, and the hope of her salvation, entirely in Him, knowing that He is always faithful. And He raised her above all the challenges of this world, to the eternal joy of heaven.
We aim for sainthood. But let us not be discouraged if that journey leads us into obscurity. God sees. God knows. And God guides all things, in His time.
St. Philomena, pray for us.