Saints & Seekers
The lives of the saints present us with an aesthetic paradox. Many stories, especially those of martyrs, dramatize the human side of saints—suffering in their frailty, suffering for the sake of sanctity. St. Thomas Becket, St. Catherine of Siena, and Blessed Pope John Paul II immediately come to mind. And yet, the saints nonetheless somehow seem like eternal figures to us—their statues standing athwart the tides of time and the currents of culture, the fixed gaze of their icons forever glowing.
This is paradox is most evident in the saints known as stigmatics and the incorruptibles. The stigmatics, in their humanity, bear the dreadful wounds of the crucifixion—normally such wounds would be a sign of vulnerability and impending mortality, yet the persistence of these sacred wounds is a testament to their transcendence of their human condition, through their close union with the Incarnate Christ. The incorruptibles actually died, but their bodies, or parts of their bodies—a tongue, a heart, a hand—never suffered decay.
The online collective of poetry I discussed yesterday really speaks to this paradox using fresh and vivid imagery. St. Thomas Becket is described as having his blood poured out like wine; St. Agnes feels her ribs snapping like twigs under her attackers, St. Paul of the Cross is described as a plum—all imagery that calls attention to their all-too-human side, to the fact that these extraordinary figures are not invincible. On the other hand, saints are also depicted in terms that suggest their permanence—the diamond teeth of St.…
This collection of poems offers a completely unique take on the lives of the saints—this is the saints as you have never seen or thought of them before. The poems are electric, surreal and sublime, simple yet profound. One of the things that makes them so compelling is their lively mix of contemporary and traditional flavors. Across the board, the poems are imaginatively evocative and intellectually provocative—a true treasure.
In some cases, the author seems to draw inspiration from the saint’s life or the things for which the saint is a patron. Sometimes, the poet seems to be reacting to a portrait or statue of the saint. Sometimes the saint’s life is merely a canvass upon which the author seems to be projecting her own struggles or anxieties of the moment. Occasionally, she will even take a famous quotation from the saint and use it as the launching off point for the rest of the poem. Below I’ve listed a few samples that really struck me.
that movement in the womb is real.
as if a whole world is coming into
your eyes are blue and the sea swells
inside. give birth to this high-tide child.
this is how to make things whole again.
With the strength of a boxer swinging wildly,
your plush red fists pummel the sky to purple,
spotted with black clouds and streaks of blue.…
I suspect that those of you who, like me, are deeply moved by the life and example of St. Francis—whose life I have revisited frequently, most recently yesterday—might wish to pray to him, to enlist the spiritual help of so great a saint. Here is a prayer I found, titled the Commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi:
THIS MAN, despising the world and triumphing over earthly things, heaped up riches riches in heaven by word and deed.
V. Our Lord hath guided the just by right ways.
R. And hath shewed him the kingdom of God.
O LORD Jesus Christ, who when the world was growing cold, didst renew in the flesh of blessed Francis the sacred marks of Thy Passion in order to inflame our hearts with the fire of Thy love: mercifully grant that, by his merits and prayers, we may always carry the Cross and bring forth worthy fruits of repentance: Who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.
I found this prayer on a Web site called Preces Latinae. It’s the best resource I have found online for old Church prayers, especially those that were first in Latin. The site also has two more prayers to St. Francis and three by him.…
There are so many sayings and writings of St. Francis that have been passed down to us, but this gem is not one I’ve ever seen quoted before. It is yet another example of how the saint could not imagine himself apart from the Church:
The Lord gave me, and gives me now, towards priests who live according to the law of the Holy Roman Church, so great a confidence, by reason of their priesthood, that even if they sought to persecute me, I would nonetheless return to them.
I suspect that St. Francis’ statement expresses the feelings of all those faithful Catholics, who in spite of trials, temptations, or doubts of various kinds remain attached to the Church. As Peter said to Jesus, Lord, where else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. In the same spirit, we remain in the Church, in spite of all trials and tribulations, because it is there—and only there—that we receive the foretaste of eternal life, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As St. Francis put it:
And for this reason I do this: because in this world I see nothing with my bodily eyes of Him who is the most high Son of God except his most holy Body and His most holy Blood, which they [the priests] receive and which they alone minister to others.
St. Thomas is officially the patron saint of architects, but he must also have a special concern for all those—I imagine many if not all of us—who at some point in our lives have had any doubts about our faith. The account of how he reacted to news of the resurrection is one that speaks to us across the centuries. According to the Gospel of John, Thomas responded: “Unless I can see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.”
When Jesus appeared to St. Thomas and the other disciplines, eight days later, he told Thomas, “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side.” What Jesus said next convicts us still today—Do not be unbelieving any more, but believe.
May we, with St. Thomas, exclaim in response: “My Lord and my God!”
This is the final installment of my series on five key saints for the Easter season. …
After the Ascension, the apostles had a bit of housekeeping to do, as Acts 1 reports. The issue: how to fill the spot Judas had held among the Twelve. The replacement eventually chosen was a man known to us as St. Matthias.
St. Matthias’ name may appear only twice in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean he’s unimportant.
In announcing nominations for a new apostle, St. Peter told those assembled that he had to be someone who had followed Jesus during his whole ministry, from Baptism to Ascension. But what exactly was this new apostle called to do? To paraphrase a later Christian writer, it wasn’t to be a witness to Jesus’ ministry. Nor to His miracles. Rather, he was called to be a “witness to His resurrection,” as the Book of Acts puts it.
Nominations were taken, two names were submitted, and Matthias won on a drawing of lots. (By the way, how bad would you feel if you were the guy who lost this, the ultimate of lotteries? Worse yet, he is not granted anonymity. Scripture informs us it was Joseph “known as Barsabbas.”)
The Apostle Matthias represents the brightening of the darkness, the bridging of an abyss, the beginning of a new epoch. He was not one of the original Twelve.…
The story of Christ’s appearance to St. Paul on the road to Damascus has special significance. First, and most obviously, the account stands apart from the others because St. Paul was not one of the original Twelve. This is important because it undermines skeptic claims that the resurrection was the product of the overactive imagination of Jesus’ followers. Not only was Paul not one of the original disciples—he was their persecutor. (Credit goes to this apologist for pointing this out to me.)
To me, the Damascus story also is especially noteworthy because, unlike all the other post-Resurrection appearances, it occurs after Jesus ascended. This points to the enduring reality of His presence.
St. Paul would go on to write about the centrality of the Resurrection to the Christian faith:
[I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is pointless and you have not, after all, been released from your sins. In addition, those who have fallen asleep in Christ are utterly lost. If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are of all people the most pitiable. [1 Corinthians 15:17-19]
May we take these words to heart and consider ways in which the truth of the Resurrection is and should be at the center of our faith and devotions.
Next: The Replacement Apostle…
Easter Saints Part II—In the later years of his papacy, John Paul II called for a rekindling of ‘Eucharistic amazement.’ This Easter season is an opportunity for us to also rekindle our amazement at the resurrection, following the example of St. Peter.
When told that the women had found Jesus’ tomb empty, Peter responded in a way that most of us probably would have: he immediately ran off to the tomb to confirm their story. Here is how his reaction is described in Luke 24:12: Peter, however, went off to the tomb, running. He bent down and looked in and saw the linen cloths but nothing else; he then went back home, amazed at what had happened.
How can we rekindle in our hearts ‘amazement’ at the resurrection?
It’s worth pointing out that amazement at the Eucharist and amazement at the resurrection are quite closely related. For it goes without saying that without the resurrection we could not receive the gift of the Eucharist. But the connection is even closer: the original example of Eucharistic amazement cited by John Paul II is the breaking of the bread between Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. This was one of the first appearances of Christ after his resurrection.
This offers us another way of thinking about the Eucharist—as a way of experiencing the Resurrected Christ.
Tomorrow: What St. Paul’s conversion teaches us about the resurrection. …
There were many initial witnesses to the resurrection—but who was the first to actually see the resurrected Christ? Answer: St. Mary Magdalene, at least according to the Gospel of John. In Chapter 20, we read that as she came across the empty tomb, St. Mary Magdalene ran to tell Peter, who comes, sees the empty tomb for himself, and then takes off with the other disciples. But Mary Magdalene stays behind, weeping outside the tomb. A man later appears to her, asking why she was weeping—that man turned out to be Jesus.
What can we learn from Mary Magdalene? Here is what Pope St. Gregory the Great tells us in one of his homilies:
We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ, for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept. Burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: “Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.”
Mary Magdalene’s story speaks to us today. In some sense, all Christians are standing with her outside the tomb, waiting for God, longing for Christ. All of us can relate in some way to the unease and anxiety that nagged at her soul when she was confronted with the absence of Christ.…
What is it that makes Mexico—which Pope Benedict XVI is visiting this weekend—so Catholic? With more than 80 percent of the population professing the faith, our neighbor to the south is the second-most Catholic country in the world, surpassed only by Brazil.
It might have something to do with the Cristero War early in the twentieth century—one of the most extraordinary episodes of Church history and one that I suspect is known to few Americans. In 1917, while the rest of the world was preoccupied with World War I, Mexico was in the throes of a violent revolution. Once in power, the new, radical government adopted a whole slew of anti-clerical laws. All church property, including hospitals and convents, was seized. Schools were closed. Religious vows were outlawed. Priests were barred from wearing their clerical garb in public. Worship outside of church buildings was prohibited.
Faced with a full-on assault on the Church, and saddled with crippling restrictions on religious freedom, Mexican bishops suspended the celebration of Mass and the other sacraments in July 1926. For the first time in hundreds of years, church bells went silent.
In January 1927, a mass movement comprised largely of peasants struck back against the government. Outnumbered and out-armed—some with just machetes or even sticks—they rose up against federal forces. Known as the Cristeros for their cries of Viva Cristo Rey! this modern-day crusade turned what government authorities had initially dismissed as a “manhunt” into nearly a three-year war.…