St. Imelda and the Fulfillment of All Desire

God is Beauty Itself. And being God, He is indefinable, incomprehensible, unlimited, uncontainable. God knows each one of us perfectly and love each one of us completely, and He alone can fill our deepest and greatest desire for happiness and fulfillment. This is His desire: To fill us with the life and joy of His own Heart, with the life of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When a human being allows Him to do this, the completion of His work of love is sainthood: To be like God in love and joy and life superabundant. This work finds its completion in Heaven, but it begins in this life, for here we choose or reject His offered Gift. How do we attain to this joy and fullness of life? Someone once asked St. Thomas Aquinas: How can I become a saint? Aquinas answered: Want it. God has already fulfilled the work of redemption—of ‘buying back’ our human nature, corrupted and enslaved through sin, and uniting it to His own Divine Nature—He has already done this in His Son, Jesus Christ. On the Cross Jesus offered Himself for the life of the world. Now we must choose: Yes in faith to the Cross, or no in self-destructive pride. And the daily ‘yes’ of faith and love is made possible only by grace, freely offered, for all who would desire it. ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.1 God has offered us everything. But we get what we want: God and perfect happiness with Him and others; or ourselves. Heaven, or Hell.

Beauty Nourishes the Soul

What is it that spurs our desires, that ignites our hearts and quickens our minds to seek that which we want, even when the road is dark and the path wearisome? It is beauty. Beauty is the nourishment of the passions, as truth nourishes the intellect and goodness the will. And beauty is intimately connected with desire; for St. John of the Cross writes that the theological virtue of hope resides in the soul’s faculty of the passions,2 and the virtue of hope is both a trust in God’s faithful goodness and a desire for happiness in Him.3 What, then, increases our hope? Beauty! Knowledge of God’s glory in creation, His incomprehensible outpouring of Light and Love from the Cross, His condescending mercy in Bethlehem—to meditate on these things, on their sensible expression and manifestations, inspires the soul with desire, with hope. Why is salvation history a story, with so many wonderful heroes who overcome great obstacles and trials? Why is prophecy so often filled with wondrous images? Why does Jesus communicate so often with parables, which are forms of fiction? Why does the Church venerate icons and cherish sacred images, music, and architecture? Why is the universe so vast and infinite, so complex and fantastic? Because the author of salvation and the great Artificer Divine is Beauty and a lover of beauty. So His works inspire us with the desire to seek the Face of Beauty in Christ Jesus, ‘the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of his person’,4 for Whom we are made. 

St. Imelda

I think that this is why the Church has given us such a myriad of saints. God’s beauty is manifest in all the above examples I listed, and truly the heavens show forth the glory of God;5 yet I think there is nothing so lovely, nothing which so perfectly magnifies the beauty of God, as a saint. This is why we so venerate and glorify the Ever-Virgin Mary, Gate of Heaven, Mother of the Uncreated Beauty who was made Flesh in Her. For Her soul magnifies the Lord, as do all the saints, who are icons of the Holy Trinity and bearers of the Light of Christ. They show us what we are to desire, Whom we are to seek. They are stars in the night which draw our hearts heaven-ward. 

One saint whose beauty I find enthralling, especially in her joy, is Blessed Imelda Lambertini. Imelda was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1322. From a very young age she had a great adoration and desire for the Eucharist, the Lord Jesus Christ as He comes to us at each and every Mass. However, at this time in the Roman Catholic Church, one could not receive Holy Communion at such a young age. Still her love of Jesus Eucharist was great, and she often attended Mass at a local Dominican church. Her parents raised her in the Catholic faith, and her mother imparted to her a love of the poor, teaching her to cook and sew for them. At the age of nine, she expressed to her parents a desire to live in the Dominican convent, and her parents in great faith entrusted her to the Dominican sisters there. She lived there for the next two years, learning the sisters’ way of life and living with the community in the spirit of prayer. During this time she begged the sisters that she might receive Holy Communion, but they believed her to be too young, and did not permit it. She kept the saints as her secret companions, and spent her time in prayer with an ever increasing desire for Jesus. She would often ask the sisters, ‘Do you think that anyone can receive the Lord into themselves without dying?’ She had a humble and magnanimous soul: She knew her littleness, and the greatness she was called to. And she did not blanch. She was soon to fulfill what St. John of the Cross would say centuries later: The more a soul hopes, the more it attains. 

The One Thing Necessary

In the Springtime, on the Vigil of the Ascension in the year 1333, Imelda again begged insistently that she may receive First Holy Communion. The chaplain was consulted and agreed with the Dominican sisters that no, she was still too young. After Mass, when all had received Him except little Imelda, she remained praying. And one of the sisters noticed a light above Imelda’s head as she prayed, and suspended in the light above her was the Eucharist. The sister called the chaplain, who understood Jesus’ indomitable desire: to give Himself to her who desired to receive Him. So little Imelda received her Lord, and was left to rest in His goodness, to give thanks and enjoy the fulfillment of all desire. Such was her joy that, when the sister returned some hours later—for they thought surely she must have finished praying—they found that she had died of pure joy. 

We are short-sighted, fickle, and anxiety-ridden creatures, letting ourselves be tossed about to and fro by a thousand desires, fears, and concerns. Yet Jesus said there is only one thing necessary: Himself. Desire Jesus, simply, as a little child—knowing your littleness, and the greatness for which you are made. Do not stifle your desires! Do not be pusillanimous—that is, to have a little soul—but let God stretch your soul and heart by longing for perfect happiness in Him, making you magnanimous—to have a great soul. Augustine says that the whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing. He says we need to be trained by longing.6 And Benedict XVI wrote: ‘The Fathers of the Church say that prayer, properly understood, is nothing other than becoming a longing for God.’7 He is the uncreated Beauty who alone can satisfy our deepest longings and needs, our greatest hopes and desires. And fear not! For it is not complicated: Even a child can do it. In fact, only a child can do it. ‘Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.’8 Jesus is the kingdom, whom the Father is pleased to give you!9 How can we receive this Gift? Go to Mass. Receive your Lord Jesus Christ Eucharist. And then continue to abide in His love in your soul, by meditation and contemplative prayer, rejoicing always: for He will never forsake you. 

‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.’

John 3:1-3

‘Blessed [happy] are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

Matthew 5:8

‘But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”’

Matthew 19:14
  1. Revelation 22:17.
  2. Spiritual Canticle, stanza 3, paragraph 7.
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1817.
  4. Hebrews 1:3.
  5. Psalm 19:1.
  6. Homily on First Letter of John.
  7. Benedict XVI, MCS, p. 15.
  8. Matthew 18:3
  9. Luke 12:32.

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