Worldliness, a U.S. theologian once wrote, makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange. Perhaps nowhere else is the strangeness of righteousness more apparent than in the lives and works of the saints. Think of St. Francis of Assisi, who renounced worldly goods by stripping naked in a public square, preached to the birds, and attempted to convert an Egyptian sultan in the middle of a crusade. Or, his contemporary, St. Dominic, who tried—twice—to sell himself into slavery to free prisoners held by Muslim invaders. Or, to take yet another example, St. Catherine of Siena, the mystic who lived on communion wafers, scolded popes, and labored to the end the Western Schism in the final years of her short life.
These saints are the unlikeliest of what the world, in its limited vocabulary, might call heroes. They had no money or power. They sought neither fame nor glory. They did not make names for themselves as inventors, explorers, warriors, scientists, or artists—although some of them may have happened to also be those things. What’s more, they did not hesitate to associate with the lowliest of their societies—the outcasts, the untouchables, and the least fortunate. For St. Francis, it was the lepers; for St. Catherine, the victims of the Black Plague.
And yet, they were among the most powerful and influential figures of their time. This was due not to their individual genius, hard work, or dumb luck. Instead, they were great because of God. Their glory was His Grace. And their stories have withstood the test of time because they are witnesses to the enduring truth of His Church.
The Christian in the modern world may sometimes feel like he is wandering in a spiritual desert. As Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote, the saints offer us much-needed relief from the dryness of our times:
The saints are oases around which life sprouts up and something of the lost paradise returns. And ultimately, Christ himself is always the well-spring who pours himself forth in such abundance.
I can’t think of a better metaphor for our encounter with the saints. When we immerse ourselves in the lives of the saints we truly find ourselves in a different, paradisiacal world. It’s a parallel universe of sorts, one that might seem strange to us—especially to this convert from evangelical Protestantism—only because the world has redefined what is normal. In this blog, I invite you to join me in roaming freely through this world, as we explore its nooks and crannies, stand in awe before its towering heights and plunging depths, and bask in its bewildering beauty.
In what follows, I intend to offer a lively mix of history, theology, reflection, and apologetics that I hope readers will find new, informative, perhaps even edifying. But, more than that, I aim to rekindle our collective wonderment at what the grace of God is capable of achieving.