1 John 4: 11-21; Matthew 19:16-26
The readings today speak in different ways of love and fear. First, John reminds us that because God is love (1 John 4:16), we who desire to know Him and share in His life must love God and each other as God loves: perfectly. We remain in His love through faith in Christ and the working of the Spirit and, as love comes to perfection, fear subsides; for perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). This sounds wonderful, and it is, but it isn’t easy. We see that in the gospel. The rich young man loved God but he didn’t know Him; lacking the eyes of faith he looked at Jesus and saw not the Lord but a teacher who asked of him what he most feared to give: his wealth. No wonder he went away sad; he allowed fear keep him from the perfect love Christ offered.
Today’s saint, Blessed Diana d’Andalo, probably understood that man as well as anyone. Born around the year 1201 in northern Italy, Diana was the 5th child of Octavia and Andalo de Lovella. Andalo means “Little Andrew,” but even if her father was small in stature, he was larger than life. Mayor of a mountainous district of Bologna, Andrew was a powerful, wealthy, and influential man, both warrior and statesman.
Diana emerges in the annals of history at the age of seventeen. She is described as good, intelligent, brave, sympathetic, and resourceful but also spoiled, vain, worldly, obstinate, and not overly pious. Like her father, Diana preferred to give orders, not take them. Finally, like most wealthy young socialites, she loved the finer things in life – dresses and jewelry – and enjoyed the pursuit of pleasure.
While she pursued pleasure the Holy Spirit pursued her. He made His first inroads into her heart through the missionaries visiting Bologna from the newly-formed Order of Preachers, the Dominicans. She loved listening to them for they intrigued her, but what interested her most was their results. They were converting people in great number.
At the right moment the Spirit made His move in the person of Blessed Reginald of Orleans, a French Dominican sent to Bologna to preach. He had a way about him, a charism for preaching that attracted people. He captivated Diana. As he spoke about the pride, vanity, and worldliness infecting society she felt his words, like Christ’s to the rich young man, bringing her face to face with her own sinfulness.
The fire of enlightenment is one thing, the fire of purgation another. Like the man in the gospel Diana had a choice to make: Draw near to the Light of the World and endure His cleansing fire or retreat into the darkness of her old, familiar ways. The rich young man had made his choice; Diana, hers. She resolved to give her life to Christ as His bride.
Although this was certainly the right choice, she soon learned that it was no guarantee of easy times ahead. As was the custom, Diana asked her father’s permission to leave home and take the habit of the Dominicans. Having a husband in mind for her, he said no. Greatly disappointed but undeterred, she left home to do it anyway. Her brothers rode to the convent and, when she resisted, dragged her away with such force that they broke one of her ribs. Back at home and in physical and spiritual pain, she spent a year begging her father’s permission, then once more eloped to the convent. This time her father relented and Diana was received into the order by St. Dominic himself.
She could overcome her father’s will; could she overcome her own? Recall that Diana liked being in charge and giving orders. She was comfortable when appointed prioress of the convent but when it became clear to her advisor that leadership was not among her gifts, obedience was a bitter pill to swallow. What she thought or felt about this we cannot know; she left no record and died at the age of 36. But from contemporaries we learn that Diana used this time to pray tirelessly, accept direction enthusiastically, and become a model of humility. An ancient biographer wrote:
Profoundly humble, she thought herself the least of all and saw to it that she wore the poorest habit. She loved to keep in the background [and was] possessed by the spirit of poverty, completely detached from the goods of this world…1
How far she had come from that spoiled teenager in love with the finer things of life!
The life of Blessed Diana d’Andalo shows us that to those docile to His promptings the Holy Spirit will show both the greatness and the folly inside ourselves. Diana’s folly lay in the selfishness and will to dominate that has plagued mankind since it first heard the voice that whispers You can be like God (Genesis 3:5). Her greatness lay in her steadfast determination to conquer any enemy, especially herself; to cast aside all fear, remain in God’s love, keep faith in Christ, and abandon herself to the power and working of the Holy Spirit, that her love for God and her neighbor may be made as perfect as possible.
Blessed Diana d’Andalo, pray for us.
1From Georges, N., OP, STL. Blessed Diana and Blessed Jordan of the Order of Preachers. Available online at http://opcentral.org/resources/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/dijolives.pdf, p 87.