Some weeks in the liturgical calendar are packed with all-stars! I am grateful that one of those weeks happens to be my birthday week. As I write this, I picture the saints lining up in order of their feast days just like we lined up in alphabetical order for lunch in elementary school. In the Cathedral of Los Angeles, Our Lady of the Angels, there is a beautiful tapestry that depicts the diversity of the saints as they stand side-by-side. If this lineup was based on feast day, St. Clare and St. Jane Frances would be next to one another. I imagine they would turn to one another and realize how much they have in common. Some of the many commonalities they share include having a best friend named Francis, founding a religious order, living in Europe, and finding great joy in serving the poor. In the Four Loves, CS Lewis writes, “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too?’”
When I studied abroad in Rome during college, I spent a weekend alone in Assisi walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare. I prepared for this trip by reading a biography of St. Francis, I, Francis. For me, the most memorable part of the book was imagining Francis listening to Clare sing in the church choir and the way he felt when Clare shared his humble mission, chopped off her beautiful long hair, and donned a simple brown tunic. Visiting St. Clare’s incorrupt body in Assisi was astonishing; it seemed as if I could just wake her up from a nap and ask her all about her friendship with St. Francis. Her beauty radiates from her body today and I could only imagine what others experienced when they encountered her while she was alive.
One day, while in grad school, I returned to my room after a retreat to find an icon of St. Jane Frances on my bed. My mom is named Jane Frances, so I was intrigued to learn more about this fascinating saint who experienced both married and religious life. She became a widow at thirty-two after her husband died in a hunting accident. On his deathbed, her husband forgave the man who killed him. Jane, however, was slower to forgive as she was deeply grieving. Eventually, she not only forgave the man, but also became the godmother of his child. Additionally, around this time, she began an eighteen-year-long correspondence through letters with Francis de Sales, who was only a few years older than her. He was the Bishop of Geneva and was the answer to her prayer for a spiritual director. They became fast friends and, as Francis wrote, “God, it seems to me, has given me to you. I’m more sure of it by the hour.”
In my book Single Truth, I write how our “yes” is a gift and not an obligation. Love is focused on giving, not receiving. When we are grasping, we are not loving. While writing the book, I went on a yearlong dating fast. During this time, I felt more free to see men as brothers in Christ and not lose myself in the thought that everyone is a candidate for dating and marriage. I did not get distracted by what I may get from a person (i.e. relationship status or affection) and instead focused on being a friend. St. Clare and St. Jane were incredible models for faith and friendship. They both developed deep, authentic friendships with St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis de Sales. They joined in their mission for the Kingdom and had friendships rooted in charity.
To bring our focus back to the tapestry at Our Lady of the Angels, it is essential to notice how the saints are all facing the altar. St. Peter teaches us that keeping his eyes on Jesus allowed him to walk on water, but when he forgot who he was walking to, he sank. In our friendships, especially with the opposite sex, we can get distracted by our fleshly desires and human understanding. We grasp at and rush into something that is often less than what God intends for us.
“It’s beautiful to be able to love on earth as we shall love in heaven.” – St. Francis de Sales
Article 2347 of the Catechism reads, “The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality. Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.”
Charity is a love that is directed outwardly instead of inwardly. If two people in a relationship try to out-love, out-forgive, and out-serve one another, there is a high probability that they will overcome whatever obstacles they face. St. Francis de Sales wrote to St. Jane Frances, “Never will it be possible for anything to separate me from your soul: our bond is too strong. Death itself would be incapable of undoing it.”
As Easter people, we believe that death is not the end for those in friendship with Jesus. When loved ones pass away, we find hope in the Resurrection and look forward to seeing them again in Heaven. These four saintly friends have been powerful intercessors in this life and I am excited to share fellowship with them for eternity!
Promotional Image Credit: https://angelusnews.com/voices/why-the-saints-can-do-great-things/
As we begin this month of August, we trudge into another month of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t have much to look forward to with feast days this month. August is filled with feast days from saints who lived less than a century ago, all the way to saints from the early Church—from religious to laity, from saints I’ve learned about my whole life, to saints I had never heard of before. Let us take time throughout this month of August to learn about the Christ-filled lives of these powerful saints.
Saints who Founded Religious Communities:
There are many saints this month who founded religious communities—all of which have had a great impact on the Church. St. Dominic founded the Dominicans, also known as the Order of Preachers, which is a religious order known for their preaching and rich intellectual history. St. Clare of Assisi worked with St. Francis of Assisi and helped found the Poor Clares, a group of contemplative nuns and the second branch of the Franciscans to be founded, just after the Order of Friars Minor. Back in the time of the early church, St. Augustine wrote the Rule of St. Augustine, which became the foundation for the Augustinians. In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux helped spread the Cistercian Order, an order of monks and nuns that branched off from the Benedictines and remains strong today. St. Cajetan helped found the Theatines which became a religious order with many bishops and intellectuals in the Church. With the help of St. Francis de Sales, St. Jane Frances de Chantal founded the Visitation Order which was a religious order open to women who had been turned down from other orders for poor health or similar reasons. The French mystic St. John Eudes founded two religious orders in the 1600s, both following St. John Eudes’ special devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. More recently, in the 18th century, St. Alphonsus Liguori founded the Redemptorists, a religious community with a special devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In the 19th century, French priest St. Peter Julian Eymard helped found two religious orders, both with a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
At first, I found this list quite overwhelming. These saints founded and/or helped spread their religious orders, something I can’t even fathom, especially in our pandemic-affected world today. But then I recognized the beauty that comes to the Church as a result of this wide range of religious communities. Each community is called to follow their own unique charism, all while growing closer to Christ and bringing Him to others. After sitting with this, I realized that there is beauty in the lives of each of these saints and in how the Church works in many ways, through many charisms, to help lead everyone to a life of holiness.
Martyrs in the Month:
In a six day stretch next week, we will celebrate three well-known martyrs in the Church. Back in the early Church, St. Lawrence was killed and is famous for his quips as he was being grilled to his death—showing his faith in Christ to the end. Much more recently, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was a Discalced Carmelite nun who was killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II because of her Jewish heritage. Similarly, St. Maximillian Kolbe was martyred at Auschwitz, giving his life in place of another prisoner, and was thus bestowed the title “martyr of charity”. While we may not face martyrdom like these saints, we can learn from how they trusted Christ and pray for their intercession in our lives.
Saints and Their Country:
Later this month, we will celebrate the feast days of three saints who are known by their primary locations: St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Louis of France, and St. Rose of Lima. These saints all lived incredible lives, all very authentic to the community in which they lived. As we progress through this month, these saints can serve as role models for us in how we can follow Christ and bring others to Him in whatever region we find ourselves.
As we walk through this August, let us look to the lives of the saints to learn to be saints right where God has called us to be through whatever charism He calls us to.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in August, and each month, click here.
When I look at my faith journey and the twists and turns it has taken, I consider the people who have impacted it the most. Many of these people have come into my life and taught me something about my faith or about myself in one way or another, through positive relationships, prayer, and community. In the past couple of years, I have been blessed to get to know a few Catholic young women who have become a faith support system for me. These women from different walks of life have been living as witnesses of loyalty, honesty, and vulnerability on their individual faith journeys and have stood as role models to me in mine. Their witness of Christ’s enduring love inspires me to be the best Catholic woman I can be.
My faith journey has also been inspired by Our Blessed Mother’s “Yes” to God and faithful obedience throughout her life. She, along with many women in the Church, serve as witnesses of faith while living often tumultuous lives on earth. Below is a short summary of five real women with strong characteristics that each can serve as models for us as we move forward on our journeys of faith.
Saint Maria Goretti is remembered for forgiving, while on her deathbed, the man who stabbed her after she refused his sexual advances at the young age of eleven. This Italian saint it often depicted gazing at the Virgin Mother while clutching a crucifix. Maria shows us a not only an intense love of Christ, but also exemplifies forgiveness. She forgave her attacker, a man who later became a Capuchin lay brother. By following her example, we can learn to forgive those in our lives who have wronged us and maybe learn to be forgiven ourselves, which can help our hearts be pure through the Sacrament of Penance.
Saint Clare of Assisi is remembered for her empathy and care for the poor. She was a monastic Benedictine nun who later founded the Order of Poor Ladies in the Franciscan tradition. With a strong devotion to Saint Francis, Clare adopted his faithfulness to the poor and desired to live humbly with her order. Clare shows us how to live in service to others by giving of our time and prayer to people in need. We can imitate her example by donating gently used clothing or volunteering at soup kitchens all year round.
Saint Joan of Arc is remembered for her bravery and leadership. She defied secular norms and led soldiers to victory in France. Joan, who is the patron saint of soldiers and France, lived for Christ through her actions. Her bravery can give us courage to persevere through any vocation God has for our lives. She shows us the importance of following God’s call, whether we are preparing to take vows or changing careers.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is remembered for steadfast devotion to Christ after converting to Catholicism and cultivating a desire to live devoutly for God. In the face of adversity within her family (her parents and brother died of smallpox when she was only four years old) and rejection by her Native American community, Kateri stayed true to her heart and had faith in God. Kateri is the first Native American saint and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
Saint Therese of Lisieux is remembered for her undying love for Christ and ongoing cheerfulness until her death at age twenty-four. Known as the “Little Flower,” Therese lived simply and fully in pursuit of a deep and genuine relationship with God. She became the third female and youngest Doctor of the Church in 1997. Therese once said of her life, "It is impossible for me to grow up, so I must bear with myself such as I am with all my imperfections. But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short and totally new." She shows us how to stay joyful and childlike by fully opening our hearts to Christ and seeking God in our own little ways.
These women and countless others served God through their words, actions, and commitment to the Gospel. I invite you to take a moment to consider these female saints and hundreds of others who witness to their faith. How can Christ help you be brave, like St. Joan of Arc, or instill in you a burning devotion to the Gospel, like St. Kateri Tekakwitha? In what ways can you give to the poor or exercise other corporal and spiritual works of mercy, like St. Claire of Assisi? How can you forgive others, like St. Maria Goretti, or remain joyful like St. Therese of Lisieux? Let us look to the saints, pray for strength, and learn to live through faith.
I was going to write this as a reflection on the life of Saint Clare, given her feast day is this week (August 11) and that there are so many interesting facts and stories about her life. Then a different, but related, reflection came to mind…
Seven years ago, being a relatively recent convert to Catholicism, I had no idea who the Poor Clares were. However, I gained some new “sisters” when I started a diocesan two-year faith development program that year and was fortunate enough to have two Poor Clare nuns of the Order of St. Clare (OSC) in my class. The Poor Clares take vows of poverty, obedience, chastity, and enclosure and are followers of St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, living the simple, Gospel life in an enclosed contemplative community. The variety of Poor Clare expressions includes the Order of St. Clare (OSC), the Colettine Poor Clares (PCC), Capuchin Poor Clares (OSC Cap), and Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (PCPA). No matter the expression though, the Poor Clare life of prayer is possible because they do live in community. I am now profoundly involved with the Monastery of St. Clare in Great Falls, Montana and count the nuns of the Poor Clares of Montana, who I affectionately call my sisters, amongst my dearest friends. My sisters have taught me a few things…
Sisters Maryalice, Catherine, Jane, and Judith Ann all came to Great Falls 16 years ago at the invitation of the Bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, who wanted to bring a monastic presence to the state of Montana. Each sister came from a separate monastery of the Holy Name Federation of Poor Clares along the eastern seaboard. I did not know the sisters then, but I am in awe at their courage, tenacity, and conviction to pull-up their roots and move west to this beautiful, but unknown land, to start the first monastic presence in Montana. They did not know each other well, had never lived in Montana, and had no monastery to occupy. I have moved around a lot in my life, but my horizon was never as uncertain and rocky as was the horizon for these four amazing women. Their story on starting the first monastery in Montana echoes St. Clare, who ran away from her familiar surroundings, wealthy family, and pending marriage in 1212 to join St. Francis in a life dedicated to God. My sisters, you have taught me to trust God’s providence, discern God’s call, and follow that call with all my heart no matter how difficult the road ahead seems.
In the time that I have known them, the Poor Clares of Montana have faced numerous, varying tribulations, and in each of those situations, they relied on the power of prayer (ok, no surprise there, that is their vocation – to pray, to pray with and for all of God’s people). Witnessing the sisters’ trials brings to mind St. Clare herself who faced many struggles including years of difficulty in obtaining papal approval of the form of life she and her sisters lived, a life she called “the privilege of highest poverty.” The effect of St. Clare’s prayers also come to mind as her prayers are credited with obtaining victories in turning back invaders of Assisi as well as numerous healings. My sisters, your witness to the power of prayer and reliance on Divine Providence have helped me to deepen my prayer life and ultimately my relationship with Christ.
Each Poor Clare community is unique as each monastery is autonomous while expressing the Poor Clare spirit of evangelical poverty, prayer, and contemplation, and the nuns of the Poor Clares of Montana reflect St. Clare’s charisms in their own exceptional way. As a small community (the same four who were the foundresses here 16 years ago are the same four who are the community today), each nun has an enormous workload to keep the monastery running as well as to try to grow her community all while keeping her emphasis on enclosure and prayer. You would think enclosure would ensure a level of certainty, but each day is distinctive for these women. Yet, somehow, the sisters maintain their prayerful focus. What they encounter in the work of each day, likely, is not very different from what St. Clare went through in starting the Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano over 800 years ago – all the responsibility initially falls on a few until the community can grow. My sisters, you have taught me no matter what each day brings to rely on Christ and persevere through prayer.
The Poor Clares of Montana recently started offering contemplative prayer workshops and Christian meditation prayer groups, bringing the Catholic Church’s rich Desert tradition of prayer to the local laity. I am amazed that these women (all who have been involved with prayer for decades longer than I have) continue to expand and deepen their relationship with Christ by embracing various expressions of prayer, adding to their repertoire of vocal and silent prayer methods. I am reminded of St. Clare’s words, “Gaze upon Christ, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him.” My sisters, you have shown me the power of praying silently in a group as a way of cultivating my relationship with Holy Trinity, as a way of responding to God’s presence in the world.
My sisters live for God alone, dedicating their whole being to God in a life expressed in community, silence, solitude, and prayer. I am grateful for their prayer, their presence, and the peace that they bring me as well as the whole community of God’s people. The Monastery of St. Clare in Great Falls is the only monastery in the state of Montana, but like the dozens of Poor Clare Monasteries in North America and the over 900 in the world, the Poor Clare nuns, following in the footsteps of St. Clare, are here for all of us – my sisters are our sisters. Thanks be to God.
Fawn Waranauskas teaches in the Catholic Catechesis Certificate Program for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on August 9th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online.