This October, as summer turns to fall and the days start getting shorter, we sometimes find ourselves with opportunities to reflect on some of life’s bigger questions. I often find myself this season asking deep questions on a nice walk outside while admiring the beauty of nature. A lot of times, these big life questions usually involve prayer, discernment, and looking to role models. When I sat down to look at the saints whom we celebrate this October, I realized that many of them had to face similarly tough life questions. The popes, young people in the Church, and martyrs we celebrate this October can help us grow in our own faith journey.
Next week, we will celebrate two saints who were popes, albeit at vastly different times. On October 14th, we will celebrate the feast of St. Callistus I (also know as Callixtus I). For many, he is probably one of the lesser-known pope saints. He was the 16th pope and had to deal with great division in the Church. He was able to navigate the Church through many doctrinal controversies through these turbulent times and was martyred around the year 222. Similarly, St. John XXIII navigated through many challenging questions in the Church when he opened the Second Vatican Council in 1962. It was through much prayer and discernment that both popes were able to guide the Church out of murky waters. Later this month, we will celebrate Pope St. John Paul II. One of my favorite John Paul II quotes epitomizes the courage he calls all of us to in living out our faith: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Saints who had an impact in their youth
Already this month, we have celebrated two saints who had a major impact on the Church while in their youth: St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi. St. Thérèse, who died at 24, was known for her life of fervent prayer. She was a cloistered Carmelite nun whose prayer was not focused on herself, but on the whole world. She is known as one of the patron saints of missionaries even though she lived as a cloistered nun. St. Francis of Assisi also had a huge impact on the Church while still young. St. Francis was in his 20s when he heard God’s call in the chapel at San Damiano, but it took him time and further prayer to realize God’s true calling for him. St. Francis’ perseverance in the faith and continual discernment of God’s call, even in times of confusion, inspire me. Bl. Carlo Acutis, beatified just last year, also positively impacted the Church in his youth. Bl. Carlo was an amateur computer programmer who died in 2006 at the age of 15. He used his passion for computers to create a website documenting Eucharistic miracles across the world.
Martyrs from all ages
Throughout the rest of the month, we will celebrate the feast days of martyrs from all time periods in the Church. This includes the memorial of two Apostles: Sts. Simon and Jude. While not much is known about the lives of Sts. Simon and Jude, it is known that they both were killed for their faith. Also martyred in the time of the early Church was St. Ignatius of Antioch. He is known for his incredible writings on Christology. St. Denis was also a martyr in the time of the early Church. Many portrayals of St. Denis will show him holding his head in his arms because after his was martyred, legend has it that he held his head and shared Christ with those who killed him. On October 19th we will celebrate Sts. John de Brebuf and Isaac Jogues, the patron saints of North America. They were killed in the 17th century while ministering to the Iroquois. Even though they had previously been captured and knew that they could be killed, they placed all of their trust in God and continued their missionary work.
Throughout the rest of this October, let us pray for the intercession of these saints in helping us be courageous in prayer and discerning God’s continuing will for us.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in October, and each month, click here.
The other day I drove past a grocery store that had people waiting in line to get inside and stock up on food and other supplies due to the continuing spread of COVID-19. Most of us have seen pictures of empty store shelves devoid of food and medicine as people make a mad rush to make sure they have what they need to self-quarantine for an extended period.
An equally startling yet vastly different image is that of empty church pews during the numerous Sunday Masses being livestreamed from Catholic parishes around the world. Whereas the emptiness of store shelves suggests the preparedness, albeit over the top at times, of consumers, the emptiness of Church pews suggests the possibility of the Christian Faithful not having the spiritual support which they need during this pandemic. Fortunately, the Church has been through pandemics before, and an examination of our past offers insight for our days ahead.
At the outset of the Bubonic plague, commonly referred to as the Black Death, Europe’s faithful sought heavenly aid to withstand the suffering caused by the plague. Various communities invoked the Blessed Mother and the saints for protection against the plague. One of the most interesting and enduring of such devotions comes from Western Germany where 14 “auxiliary saints” were venerated together as the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
The Fourteen holy helpers were:
Pious legend tells of a shepherd boy receiving a vision of the 14 Holy Helpers in a field near the German town of Bad Staffelstein. After this, a church was erected on this spot and miraculous healings began to occur on account of the intercession of the Holy Helpers. A shrine church still stands in Bad Steffelstein to this day where pilgrims continue to go and seek the help of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. As this group devotion spread to other countries, new helpers were added for more popular saints in any given region including St. Nicholas, St. Sebastian, and St. Rocco (Roch). Regardless of which saints composed the group of helpers, the people of Europe implored the Helpers’ aid against the harsh symptoms of the Black Death.
Today, the world once again suffers from a pandemic, the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus. Though medicine and science have surely advanced and we know much more about diseases and how they spread than medieval Europeans, maybe those Christian faithful of the past can teach us an important lesson: the lesson of faith and trust in God.
As we adapt our lifestyles to work from home, social distance ourselves, and view Mass via livestream, let us not forget the great cloud of witnesses who watch over us from heaven. May we turn to their help during these challenging times.
Fourteen Holy Helpers, Pray for us!
Joseph Basalla is a graduate from The Catholic University of America living in the Washington, DC area.