Today, 22 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Lea of Rome, widow and leader of women consecrated to God. From ‘having it all’ she changed completely and became, through her living of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, a witness to the reality of the eternal Kingdom of God.
The greatest part of what is known about St Lea comes from a letter of St Jerome to St Marcella, another holy widow of Rome. To find the full translation of Letter XXIII, go to www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf206.v.XXIII.html
From what St Jerome says of Lea, she must have been a very wealthy since she had been ‘the mistress of many’. Whatever the catalyst for Lea’s conversion was, it must have been remarkable. To have turned so completely from a life of ease, luxury and power and to have so thoroughly embraced poverty, humility and prayer bespeaks a powerful conversion. Such an utter reversal also bespeaks of an immense desire to seek pardon for past sins through a penitential life. Perhaps, like her contemporaries, the death of her husband marked the begining of her search for meaning. Perhaps the joy with which St Paula and St Marcella and their companions dedicated their lives completely to God’s service made a deep impression upon her.
Lea’s heart was captured by the unfailing love of Jesus our Redeemer and her whole desire was to become worthy of a place in His Kingdom. For love of Him she dressed in the clothes of the poor and kept long vigils of prayer. For love of Him she ate the coarse food of the poor and dwelt in lodgings of poverty. For love of Him she undertook the role of spiritual mother towards the consecrated virgins of Rome and was never too proud to serve them in the most menial of tasks. To have been accepted as a spiritual mother Lea must have been living this exceptional life of mortification for quite a number of years, because you would only seek advice and guidance from someone with significant experience and holiness.
When death came to Lea in 384 it came quickly, because St Marcella wasn’t granted the opportunity to pray beside her deathbed. Even though her death came with suddeness, Lea was prepared because she had her eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus and upon His eternal Kingdom. Lea, like St Mary Magdalen, had chosen the better part and it was not taken from her.
For such words of praise to have come from St Jerome’s pen, Lea must have been special indeed, and much loved and respected in the Christian community of Rome.
As the days of Lent trickle away, may St Lea of Rome pray for us that we may more deeply be converted to Jesus and more willing to radically follow Him.
St Lea of Rome, pray for us.