Saint Lydia Purpuraria
The first convert of Saint Paul
Saint Lydia was born during the first century in Thyatira, a town famous for its dye works in Asia Minor, famous for its dye works, (hence, her name which means purple seller). She was a seller of purple dye and was St. Paul's first convert at Philippi. The following is from the Acts of the Apostles:
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God, did hear: whose heart the Lord opened to attend to those things which were said by Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying: If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
She was baptized with her household. Thereafter, Paul made his home with her while in Philippi.
Lydia was a woman of hospitality, a woman of faith. As a successful businesswoman she most likely had a home spacious enough to welcome guests and to use her home as a Christian center, where others would gather for the Holy Mass and prayer. After Paul and Silas were released from prison, they went immediately to Lydia’s house to see and encourage the believers gathered there. Lydia served the Lord through her gift of hospitality by welcoming others into her home.
By the River
Saint Luke places Lydia at the center of a tableau rich in details. It is the Sabbath, the day of repose in God, the day of listening to the Word. Paul and his companions go outside the city gates. There is a place of prayer by the river. We are given to understand that this is an "unofficial" place of prayer, not a synagogue. In order to hold a proper synagogal liturgy the presence of at least ten men is required. Luke mentions only the presence of women. This "assembly of women," irregular and marginal in its own way, is the context for Lydia's hearing of the Word. "God's word is not chained" (2 Tim 2:9), and "the Spirit blows wherever it pleases" (Jn 3:8).
Lydia and Mary of Bethany
Lydia is a professional woman, a merchant dealing in purple dyed fabrics. I imagine her to be smart, capable, a good judge of character. She is already an adorer of God, that is to say, one who adheres to the worship of the God of Israel. Adoration of the one God, the God of Israel, has prepared her heart to receive the seed of the Gospel. Lydia was "all ears" because the Lord had opened her heart to heed what was said by Paul (Ac 16:14). The Word Himself says, "No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father" (Jn 6:65). Reception of the Word of God is itself a gift of God. It is the Lord who opens the ear of the heart to the Word. Luke's portrait of Lydia bears a certain resemblance to his portrait of Mary of Bethany who "sat at the Lord's feet and listened to His teaching" (Lk 10:39).
The Sacramental Finality of the Word
Through ears opened by the Lord, Lydia receives the Word of God into her heart. This is the very substance of lectio divina. For Lydia, it leads to Baptism. The Word is fulfilled in the Mysteries, in the Opus Dei, the work wrought by God for us. Every hearing of the Word has this sacramental finality. The celebration of the Holy Mysteries delivers what the Word proclaims. We experience the same pattern in every Mass: the Word proclaimed, heard, repeated, and prayed sends us to the altar for its actualization in the Mystery of Sacrifice.
The Divine Hospitality
Lectio divina and Opus Dei come to fruition in service and, particularly, in hospitality. Lydia, having experienced the hospitality of God in Word and in Sacrament, witnesses to the Divine Hospitality by extending it. Having opened her heart to the Word, she opens her home to Paul and his companions. This is the very foundation of monastic Hospitality. All of us, guests and sojourners in the house of God, "hospitalized" in His Word, and nourished from the altar of His Sacrifice, are compelled to go and do the same.
Come, Holy Spirit
Lectio divina, Opus Dei, and Hospitality -- each being sacramental in its own way -- imply the secret action of the Paraclete promised by Our Lord in the Gospel. In lectio divina, as in the Opus Dei, and in sacred Hospitality, we witness the presence and action of the same Holy Spirit who, in the Holy Sacrifice will descend today upon the holy oblations and upon ourselves