Last month I had the opportunity to go to Lisieux, France, and visit the tomb and home of one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux. While visiting the Carmelite monastery where she lived, one thing that struck me was the hundreds of letters from soldiers fighting in World War I, letters thanking Therese for her intercessory prayer from heaven that miraculously protected them during battle. Not knowing how to thank her, these soldiers sent letters of gratitude to her religious order. It was these letters that opened her cause for canonization. St. Therese is now considered the patron saint of missionaries because of her powerful intercession. This experience brought me to reflect on the importance of intercession in our lives and how we can better live intercessory lives by imitating the model of St. Therese’s life.
It seems that asking for intercessory prayers is a part of the daily life of many Catholics, but what is our disposition when this happens? It can be so tempting to half-heartedly ask someone to intercede for a person or situation in your life, not expecting anything to happen as a result. Even more often, I find myself saying yes to intercede for someone and then not putting the intention and time into the prayer that I should. I think the main cause of all of these roadblocks in intercession comes from not understanding the power our prayer has, and this is a lesson we can learn from St. Therese.
St. Therese realized that our prayer has power because it is the cry of children to their Father, a Father who can’t resist saying “yes” to His children. She saw prayer not as bargaining with God, but as uniting her will and desires to God’s and asking that the same happen for whoever she was interceding for. Approaching prayer in this way radically changes the way that we intercede for others. We can step out and ask for prayer boldly and with confidence, because we can trust that the prayers will help bring about God’s will in our lives, not our own.
Another key part of St. Therese’s model for intercession is that she saw intercession not as her own work, but as God’s work. St. Therese called her spirituality “the little way,” and it involves recognizing our own weakness and littleness before God and asking Him to sanctify us and bring us closer to Him through our littleness. One of the most fundamental keys to intercession is believing in the power of our prayers despite our littleness and imperfection. To understand the power of our prayer, we need to understand that God delights in us and desires to use us in our littleness. St. Therese explains that when we become little, we make room for God to work. If we apply this same principle to intercessory prayer, we see that no matter how small or simple the prayer, God wants to use it for His greater glory. God doesn’t ask us for a big complicated prayer but for the honest prayer of our hearts, no matter its size.
Intercessory prayer is one of the most important parts of Catholic life, but often it can be overlooked. Looking at the model of St. Therese and her little way, we can learn that intercessory prayer is a beautiful part of our lives. Further, we see that it can make a real, tangible difference in the natural and supernatural realities around us when we offer our prayers with full confidence in God’s providence despite our littleness. St. Therese, pray for us, and teach us how to intercede like you!
“For he knows our frailty, He remembers we are only dust”--St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Since Lent of 2022 is already upon us, I would like to pause and reflect on how Lent is a deeply penitential season that can bring us closer to Christ through our love of Him and those around us. I want to consider this by examining St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, and the concept of Merciful Love.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux was deeply attuned to Jesus’s love and mercy for all mankind, especially when it came to little souls who had a repentant heart. St. Thérèse expresses her devotion to the Divine Mercy across her many writings, and her insights shaped her “Little Way” into Jesus’s merciful heart as it is poured out to sinners. However, many reject Christ’s mercy, not believing it to be the free gift it is. In my opinion, this is one of the hardest realities to accept in the spiritual life because of its ubiquitous nature. As humans, we are constantly anxious that we are offending God, inadvertently hurting those around us, and making mistakes in our day-to-day lives at work or in school. But no matter the situation, anxiety, or fault, Christ’s mercy enters that space and works to heal us, even if we do not acknowledge it or if we reject it outright. Jesus comes to us and can live in us no matter what.
St. Thérèse points to Jesus’s Infinite love and mercy as a model for our own love. In Story of a Soul, she writes, “How good is the Lord, his mercy endures forever! It seems to me that if all creatures had received the same graces I received, God would be feared by none but would be loved to the point of folly; and through love, not through fear, no one would ever consent to causing Him any pain.” Lent is a time of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving that is focused on love of God and love of neighbor. The three core pillars of Lent are not ends in themselves; they are a means to grow closer in relationship to Jesus, the Church, and those who live in our communities. Christ offers us his love and mercy so that we can extend them to those around us, and once we accept His gifts, we are changed forever. Nevertheless, one must trust God in His love, and we must see ourselves as reflections of His love.
Much of St. Thérèse’s writings and spirituality revolve around being a small child before God. Our littleness allows the Lord to love and minister to us as He intended since we cannot attain the heights of the Christian life on our own. Instead, Jesus and the Holy Spirit draw near to illuminate the darkness in our lives with their love. Yet, despite the presence of Christ in our lives, we turn away from Him, and this then allows us to run back to Him as the Prodigal Son did. This turning back to God fosters deeper trust in God within our hearts. St. Thérèse enunciates that we have to receive and accept our brokenness and the reality that we will never be perfect. Once this occurs, we gain a relationship with Jesus. Through His love for us, we see ourselves as a vessel for His love. We value our own selves as well as helping those around us. We Christians move outward to love the world as Jesus called us to do through God the Infinite Love and Infinite Mercy.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
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.
Pope Francis eloquently writes in his post-synodal exhortation Christus Vivit, “After this brief look at the word of God, we cannot just say that young people are the future of our world. They are its present.” In the last decade, and especially since Christus Vivit was promulgated in 2019, the Church has sought to help the Church’s youth become protagonists in their own right. This is seen in many parish, diocesan, and archdiocesan initiatives to form young Church leaders. Some examples of this include creating new diocesan offices for youth and young adult ministries and the growth of many high school and collegiate campus ministry offices. Nevertheless, young people crave young role models for the Faith. Pope Francis recognized this and listed many examples, including Mary, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Joan of Arc. In this blog, I wish to discuss three saints in particular--Bl. Carlo Acutis, St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, and St. Therese of Lisieux—and how their witnesses are a model for young people (especially youth leaders) who wish to dive deeper into a relationship with Christ and his Church.
Young people everywhere crave to see an aspect of themselves in the people they look up to, and Bl. Carlo Acutis is a soon-to-be saint who allows young people to see commonalities between themselves and the saints. Carlo was a typical Italian teenager who played soccer and video games. Nevertheless, he also made great strides for God in his work, uploading Eucharistic miracles to a website to spread devotion to the Body and Blood of Christ. He was called “an influencer for God” by his mother in an America Magazine article. Bl. Carlo stands as a soon-to-be saint accessible to the Church’s youth because of his young age and his connectedness to 21st-century culture. Bl. Carlo Acutis models for youth leaders how evangelization must occur within the culture and modern media, not from an ivory tower of formal theology and scholarship. The Gospel must be spread in a way that all generations can appreciate, and Bl. Carlo accomplished that with the creation of his website.
Another young person who bore witness to the Faith in the context of his own time was St. José Sánchez del Rio. Saint José was a young man growing up in Mexico during the Cristero Wars. The Cristero Wars were a series of conflicts between the Mexican President Plutarco Calles's secularist government and Cristero fighters (formally known as the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty). The Calles government imposed the 1917 Mexican Constitution, which contained anticlerical policies and sought state atheism. Catholics across the country opposed this and began resisting through liturgical services and military resistance against the Mexican army. Saint José was a young man during the war and wanted to fight to defend his Faith. His mother, however, refused to let him formally join the Cristero Movement. This made St. José contribute to the movement indirectly and attend Mass whenever possible. Nevertheless, when a Cristero General lost his horse in battle, young José offered his, and this led to his imprisonment by the Mexican army. After being tortured to renounce his Faith, José refused and was martyred. St. José Sánchez del Rio’s witness to the Faith is one of the best examples of what a Catholic is called to do by Christ: witness the Faith within your own culture and times while not renouncing our Lord. Despite his young age, St. José believed in Christ’s love and graces, and that gave him the strength to be countercultural and stand with Jesus instead of with the popular culture and the government that stood against Him.
Finally, St. Thérèse of Lisieux remains one of the most commanding forces in the Church’s lexicon for youth witnesses. Becoming a Carmelite at age fifteen, Thérèse began to pray incessantly and pioneered her famous “Little Way” for the spiritual life. St. Thérèse’s “Little Way” seeks to help people encounter Christ in their day-to-day activities and pray to Jesus with childlike dependency. St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s powerful devotion to the Eucharist, prayer, and a joyful attitude allow many to realize that one can be close to Christ no matter what they are doing. St. Thérèse stands as a strong role model for young Catholics since her relationship to Christ reached such profound depths at her young age.
Young people crave role models in the Church, and older generations can find powerful witnesses and wisdom from young Catholics as well. The Church has been and must remain dedicated to telling and promoting the stories of young saints to inspire every generation to become protagonists in the Church and saints for Christ’s kingdom. Young people can be inspired by these saints since they can “…offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to ‘rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments’” (Pope Francis, Christus Vivit).
Over the past year as I helped develop the Catholic Feast Days website, I was always struck by the number of saints whose feast days were in July. As we enter into this July, I found myself reflecting on the lives of the saints whose feasts are celebrated this month. From apostles to saints in our era and everywhere in between, the lives of the saints celebrated this month have offered great spiritual nourishment to me.
Three well-known Saints:
This month we get to celebrate three powerhouse saints: St. Benedict, St. Bonaventure, and St. Ignatius of Loyola. Sometimes I find it hard to relate to some of these well-known saints. St. Benedict helped found modern monasticism. St. Bonaventure was one of the greatest theologians of his time. St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits. Together they set a pretty high, almost discouraging, standard that feels hard for me to reach. But, as I continue to learn more about their lives, I realize that throughout their ups and downs, they offered themselves to God, no matter how high the mountain or low the valley. Likewise, God is calling us to follow Him. He is calling each of us individually, wherever we are in our lives, to do the same.
Four Saints on the Way:
Starting later this week, we get to celebrate four ‘Blesseds’ in the Church: Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Bl. Maria Romero Meneses, Bl. Stanley Rother, and Bl. Solanus Casey. Even among these four Blesseds, I can see the beauty in how God calls each of us personally. Whereas Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassait was a young Italian known for his social activism, Bl. Maria Romero Meneses was a Nicaraguan sister who devoted her life to teaching and helping all throughout Central America. Whereas Bl. Solanus Casey was a humble American Capuchin known for his spiritual counseling, Bl. Stanley Rother was an American pastor who volunteered for mission work in Guatemala for 15 years until he was martyred in 1981. Through the witnesses of their lives, these four Blesseds inspire me to live my life striving for holiness in whatever way God is calling me.
Families of the Saints:
Throughout this entire month, we are reminded of the importance of family in the lives of so many saints. Sts. Louis and Zellie Martin are the parents of two saints, including the well-known St. Therese of Lisieux. St. James the Apostle is the brother of St. John the Evangelist, also one of the Apostles. Sts. Joachim and Anne are the parents of Mary, the grandparents of Jesus, and the patron saints of grandparents. St. Bridget of Sweden is the mother of St. Catherine of Sweden. All of these saints helped me reflect on the importance of our families in our journey of faith. For many of us, let us follow the model of these saints and take advantage of the easing pandemic restrictions to get to see family members we may not have seen in well over a year.
Not as well-known Saint for the Month:
One saint in July who I wasn't very familiar with was St. Camillus de Lellis. I eventually learned that he was one of the patrons of the sick. The religious order he founded, the Camillians, is known as the Ministers to the Sick. What I find particularly inspiring about his life was that St. Camillus himself was sick most of his life and was in a state of constant suffering, yet he still devoted himself to this ministry. There are stories of him being unable to walk. Instead, he would crawl to visit the sick. Even as there is a light of hope to the eventual ending of the pandemic, let us continue to hold in prayer those who are sick with any ailment and those who care for them, and let us as the People of God pray for the intercession of St. Camillus.
As we go throughout this July, let us walk with the saints as role models for offering to God all of our highs and lows while trusting Him wherever He leads 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 July, and each month, click here.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Today on the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, affectionately known as the Little Flower, I turn to my sons’ example in accepting everything completely from God. My almost two-year-old is predictable: he loves blueberries, watching the garbage truck pick up trash on Mondays and Fridays, and playing in the backyard. Recently he has taken to playing with a giant cardboard box that my husband engineered into a “cottage” with a window and a workable door. The joy and excitement he exudes each morning playing with his cardboard cottage didn’t strike me at first. But after a few rounds of him serving me imaginary chocolate milk and tea from his little abode, I realized that this joy, the same joy and freedom he has when running ferociously to the front of the house to see the garbage being picked up, is the joy and freedom St. Therese of Lisieux wrote about and emulated in her life.
“To remain a child before God means to recognize our nothingness, to expect everything from God. It is not to become discouraged over our failings, for our children fall often, but they themselves are too little to hurt themselves very much.” St. Therese of Lisieux
Therese gives us the example of radical abandonment to the Father’s will. When we take a snapshot of her life—where she lived most of her life, whom she met, what accolades she was awarded—we see that her life was not much in worldly standards. And yet, Therese is honored with the title “Doctor of the Church.” Her writings and her example of charity beckon us to take a closer look at this simple and great saint.
While Saint Therese is a heavily pestered saint when it comes to intercession (as her intercession is known to be great) and her quotes are seen often, today let us take after her childlikeness and see the world through her eyes with childlike abandonment to God. I encourage you to find five beautiful things in the mundane of your day that your eye has not yet “truly” seen before. Thank and praise God for the life He has given you, in all its sufferings and joys, and ask for St. Therese’s intercession in seeing the beauty in the mundane.
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
My wife and I welcomed our first daughter into the world on February 24th, and we brought her home a few days later on Ash Wednesday. As is the typical newborn parent experience, we’ve endured frustrating, sleepless nights and reveled in joy-filled, playful mornings. Because of stay-at-home, work-from-home orders in Texas, my parental leave has been longer than I anticipated, but I believe this is a blessing. Each moment I’ve had with my daughter has been precious, and as I sit on this (squeaky!) rocking chair holding her in my arms, balancing my laptop on my knee, the recent advice of expert parents runs through my mind and evokes in my heart a fresh understanding of God’s divine fatherhood and my pursuit of sainthood.
In the weeks leading up to our daughter’s birth, one mother of 6 said something to me to the effect of: “The nights are long and the days are short, but the years are the fastest of all.” In these first few weeks of parenthood, I’ve found that my wife is more easily roused during the night. When it’s my turn (opportunity, really) to get up mid-REM cycle, the nights really do feel long. Honestly, they drag. But it’s struck me more than once that getting up in the middle of the night is a very practical way that I can pursue holiness in my vocation. To sacrifice sleep to offer comfort to my child and rest for my wife is not in the same league as answering a burning question for the Summa or calling out a witty line while being burned at the stake, but it is a constant formation in the virtues of humility and charity. I’m led to consider St. Therese’s “little way,” which makes more and more sense each day. Those long nights always do turn into days and, I’m sure, the years will speed by soon.
Many people, including our pediatrician, have said, “Always hold your baby in the first few weeks, even when she’s sleeping. You’re not spoiling her, and you won’t get to do that forever.” As a general rule, I’ve always believed babies are cute and, therefore, worthy of spoiling. But no one warned me that when it comes to one’s own child, evolutionary biology and divine motivation combine to make one certain that one’s own baby is the most perfect, most adorable being on all the earth and, therefore, is automatically deserving of every good thing. When I’m holding my daughter in my arms, and I gaze upon her (perfect) little face with its self-inflicted scratches and baby acne, I’m blown away at how much love I have for her. Then, I’m briefly terrified at the thought that something bad could happen to her.
And isn’t that how it is for our relationship with God our Father? He gazes upon us, loving us with all our imperfections, slightly terrified and sorrowful at the thought that sin and death and temporal pursuits could lead us to ruin. As I adjust this baby in my arms right now, I’m wondering whether God pulls us closer to His bosom in those moments of near separation, gazing upon us all the while, reminding us how beloved we are with, as Nouwen says in Life of the Beloved, “all the tenderness and force that love can hold.”
There are many more pieces of advice that have yielded great spiritual reflections for me these last few weeks. Now, I know that I’m not offering any groundbreaking reflections, but maybe the point of this post is not to offer a new thought, but instead to acknowledge that God has spoken these familiar realities of His love and affection for me in a deeper way through the experience of my vocation. I’m encouraged to remind you in these times of distress: God is a loving Father whose sacrificial love turns against all else, even His own justice (Deus Caritas Est, 10) to gaze upon you with all the force that love can hold. Perhaps this is a notion all mothers and fathers before me—spiritual, adoptive, and biological—have come to understand already, but it’s consoling to know that in a time of uncertainty, God still speaks to and affirms His people through personal encounters. Even through a sleeping baby and a squeaky rocking chair.
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
My grandmother passed today.
In her last few days, she told her nine children, “I remain in the will of God. God’s will is love and mercy. What do I have to fear?”
In a word, she got it. She got what life was all about: she had a friendship with God that helped her to understand his identity and to recognize death as the vehicle that would bring her eternally to him.
The grace with which my grandmother understood her last days is uncommon. Death usually seems to surprise or horrify. We don’t think about it too often in our culture, either because it makes us uncomfortable or we’re often focused on earthly things.
As a teenager, I experienced a lot of family deaths in a short period of time. During an incredibly formative period, I attended many funerals, said many prayers, visited several hospitals, and travelled often unexpectedly. Life seemed incredibly uncertain and precarious, and I found myself often asking, “Who’s next?”
Death was real, and it seemed to be everywhere. Though I felt like an adult at the time, I was still unable to comprehend the greatness and depth of what was occurring. It is normal for human beings to dislike death. Death is ugly, unnatural, and uncompassionate. It visited my grandparents, aunt, and cousin. It tried to visit my own father.
In those teenage years, death and I were at war. It took my relatives and did not ask my permission. As a method of self-preservation, I attempted to turn off my feelings and approached life with a blasé attitude. If it was all going to end, I thought, then what was the point? What was the point of feeling if feelings are heartache and tears? What was the point of getting too close to someone who would ultimately slip away?
It was an immature but perhaps understandable reaction for a teenager. And since then, it has taken many years for me to be able to “feel” again and understand death’s role in the spiritual life.
If we start researching the saints and their perspective on death, we quickly find a completely different understanding of death than the one the world gives us. “Tomorrow will be a wonderful day” Blessed Solanus Casey said to a fellow priest, prophesying his own death the next morning. He and many of the saints saw death as a friend, a door, a wedding banquet, a bridge welcoming man into reality—eternal life. “Death is no phantom, no horrible specter as presented in pictures,” Therese of Lisieux said. “In the catechism it is stated that death is the separation of soul and body, that is all! Well, I am not afraid of a separation which will unite me to the good God forever.”
The saints also understood that life on earth is a pilgrimage, not our final destination. As a girl, Therese of Lisieux found inspiration in the quote: “The world is thy ship and not thy home.” We are pilgrims on a road hopefully leading back to God. Every decision we make leads us either closer to this end or farther from it.
I believe mankind has such an aversion to death because we were not created for it. In the beginning, death did not exist. Death was the consequence of sin: separation from God. In order to not leave us in this state of separation permanently, God worked throughout time and intervened in human history in order to bring mankind back to himself in a state even greater than we experienced prior to the Fall. He now invites us to share in his very life—the trinitarian life of love, of complete gift of self—in heaven which “is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC1023).
Because of God’s work throughout salvation history culminating in the Passion, death and Resurrection of his Son, death no longer is the last word. As Paul wrote to the early Church in Corinth: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is taken away—transfigured. God took the ugliest and most unnatural consequence of sin and transformed it into the passageway that leads us back to him. This is the Christian perspective of death, what the saints understood, but what we have such a hard time truly grasping. We often only see the life taken too soon, the pain and suffering of the dying, the wrinkles, the tubes, the bloodshed. Christ offers us more: resurrection, transfiguration.
St. Paul says that if we but understood the eternal, we would willingly suffer on earth—calling tribulation “momentary light affliction.” He says, “We are not discouraged…although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” 1 Cor 4:16-18
I believe my grandmother, in her final days, understood what St. Paul and the saints did: death was simply the vehicle that would bring her into the loving arms of the Father. She understood God’s identity in two words—love and mercy—and surrendered to this truth in order to live eternally in God’s love. I look to her example and see incredible strength and faith, and I pray, as I visit her tomb in Mexico, that I can have the grace to remain in God’s will and see death as a momentary light affliction producing an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
“She competed well; she finished the race; she kept the faith” (cf 2 Tim. 4:7).
May we all do the same.
In 1745, Fr. Alban Butler produced his collection of the Lives of the Saints. It’s been in circulation ever since, providing the faithful with stories of holy men and women as exemplars to imitate. Oftentimes, the stories in the volumes of the Lives of the Saints do not seem to portray real human beings. The brief passages list only miracles and pious deeds. Sometimes I feel that the examples used could even make the sweet St. Therese, the Little Flower, look positively scandalous in comparison!
This is not to say that Fr. Butler’s work is in vain. It is good that these names are recorded for us. As we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we should honor those who came before us and passed down the faith from generation to generation. But this feast day raises the question: what is a saint?
The process of canonization tells us that we know when a certain person is surely in Heaven and that their life is worth imitating, but there are more unrecognized saints than those that are recognized. Saints are people who, through the course of their lives, have grown into the image of themselves which God holds in His divine mind. They become who they were created to be in the fullest sense. The marvelous thing about saints is that they were real, gloriously messy, complex human persons. If we believe every human being is an unrepeatable expression of God’s love, then it stands to reason that every saint is an unrepeatable example of what it means to live out of that love.
I think too often we get concerned with trying to imitate certain saints, like St. Therese, and forget to discover who we were created to be. You cannot be St. Therese: Part 2, or Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati 2.0. Those roles have been taken because those two individuals had the humility to see the greatness God was inviting them into. They stepped into the journey of becoming who they were meant to be. Dr. Gianna Molla, known for giving her life to save her infant daughter’s, was not a saint because of that one action. Her life was steeped in holiness. She was a doctor, a mother, a lover of fashion, and apparently a terrible driver. But as much as I want to be her when I grow up, I can’t. I will never be a doctor, for one thing. What I can do is find pieces of my personality in hers, and I can learn from her example of how she lived and how she handled certain situations and use those lessons in my own life—much like getting advice from an older sister.
Holy lives are not replicas of each other. You cannot program holiness by inserting a set of statutes, commands, circumstances, or ideals into people. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his General Audience on April 13, 2011, said “Holiness, the fullness of Christian life, does not consist in carrying out extraordinary enterprises but in being united with Christ, in living his mysteries, in making our own his example, his thoughts, his behavior” (emphasis mine). We are called to live as Christ in a particular manner, in this particular time, with our own particular gifts. I cannot be you and you cannot be me. But I need you to be the person God has called you to be because we are part of the same mystical Body of Christ, alongside the saints. Conversely, I need to become the person God created me to be as well.
We will never know all of our spiritual brothers and sisters until we reach Heaven. As members of the Church triumphant, the saints want us united with God even more than we want to be with Him because they love more perfectly than we do. May we imitate their holy example and ask for their guidance in living out of the love of God more and more completely each day.
Reflection Questions: Who is your favorite obscure saint? What quality of sanctity do you want to grow in this season?
Besides receiving and visiting Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament at Mass and Adoration, I find that the most nourishing aspect of my spiritual life is friendship with the saints. The Church holds celebrating the saints and asking for their intercession in high regard, as the Solemnity of All Saints, which falls on November 1st each year, is a holy day of obligation. The Vigil of All Saints, then, falls on October 31st each year.
One goal of the Christian is to engage in prayer with God, and prayer, simply put, is conversing with God. Each day, we can offer our work to God and talk to Him frequently. This is not always easy, though, and I have found that friendship with the saints helps immensely.
A friendship, which is the mutual willing of the good between people, is cultivated with communication and time spent together. Aristotle and Shakespeare, in their genius commentaries on friendship, always return to the simplicity of authentic friendship. Developing a friendship with the saints does not need to be overly-complex. It can also be founded upon communication and time spent together, ultimately bringing us closer to God and strengthening our communication with Him.
Communicating daily with the saints further orients our minds to the supernatural, to the existence of the “things…invisible” that we recite in the Creed, and it also strengthens us in the fight for our souls.
By communicating with the saints, we will become more like the saints, who in their devotion to Christ became like Christ. Thus, the saints will help us to become more Christ-like. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins gets at this point in one of his poems:
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
The “just man” is the saint, and the saint’s Christ-like actions help him to become like Christ.
As I mentioned in my last blog, stories of the saints are dramas of the highest caliber. Each saint had a unique personality and found their way to heaven in their own special, grace-filled way. There are so many saints that everyone can find someone they relate to or want to emulate. Below, I have listed just a few of my friends, and I pray that they will intercede for you!
Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Edmund Campion, St. Ignatius, St. John the Beloved Disciple, St. Luke, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. John Paul II, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, Bl. John Henry Newman, Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, St. Robert Southwell, St. Henry Walpole, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Berchmans, St. Francis Xavier, St. Leo the Great, St. Augustine, St. Vincent Pallotti, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. John Vianney, St. Joseph, Guardian Angels, Our Lady…
Ora pro nobis!
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.
In the days and weeks leading up to my now 6-month-old goddaughter’s birth and subsequent baptism, I often found myself repeatedly explaining her name. “Zelie . . . she is named after a newly-canonized saint who was a wife and the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux.” That simple statement has paved the way for several conversations about what exactly it was that made Marie-Azélie, lovingly called “Zelie,” a saint.
On this day, July 12th, the Church celebrates (for the first time!) Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin. At first glance, they led ordinary lives. However, it was precisely in the ordinary nature of their lives that they allowed God to do something extraordinary through them. Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin would attend early morning Mass regularly, persevered in faith after the tragic deaths of four of their nine children, and allowed their work to be an opportunity for their sanctification.
During their canonization homily, Pope Francis said, “The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.” He continued, “The radiant witness of these new saints inspires us to persevere in joyful service to our brothers and sisters, trusting in the help of God and the maternal protection of Mary.” By saying yes to God in the mundaneness of our daily life and work, as Sts. Louis and Zelie did, we pave the way for courageously saying yes in life’s bigger or more difficult moments.
Upon getting married and starting a family, Sts. Louis and Zelie had no idea that they would lose four of their children or that their youngest child would become a great Doctor of the Church. What they did know – and what remains true for us today – is that hoping and trusting in God’s plan will never leave us disappointed. The witness of Sts. Louis and Zelie shows us that by being faithful to God in life’s seemingly small moments, we can show the world that there is a plan greater than anything we can begin to comprehend.
So what exactly made Zelie and Louis Martin saints? They repeatedly chose to thank God for His many gifts, serve Him in their vocation to marriage and family life, and glorify Him in work. The saints are people who did ordinary things in extraordinary ways, and this is certainly true of Sts. Zelie and Louis. By their witness, we are inspired to live the “extraordinary ordinary” well and one day join them in our heavenly home.
Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, pray for us!
It was the Second Vatican Council which decreed, "From the very beginning of the church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in their own way leading a life dedicated to God." It is on this observation that I write in commemoration of the close of the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis inaugurated on November 30, 2014 (the First Sunday of Advent) and concluded on February 2, 2016 (the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple). Addressing all consecrated people in an Apostolic Letter, His Holiness expressed three aims for this great year: first, “to look to the past with gratitude;” second, “to live the present with passion;” and third, “to embrace the future with hope.” Similarly, he called upon the laity, “who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission,” and the whole Christian people to become more aware of the gift of consecrated men and women, “heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity.”
Growing up, I was blessed to have been taught, mentored, and befriended by a number of consecrated religious, namely the Sisters of the Resurrection and the Lasallian Brothers. When I arrived at The Catholic University of America, however, my exposure to consecrated religious expanded to include the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Servant Sisters of Mary Immaculate, and the Pallottines (and their Apostolate Center!), to name a few! As I got to know each of them, I became more aware of the joy and the grace inherent of their living out their respective Order’s charisms and spirituality, be they involving education, service, contemplative prayer, or dogmatic theology. In spite of the differences between each order and the varying reasons each member had for professing, there remains one commonality: desiring to follow Christ and seeking to imitate Him more closely in a life dedicated to God. Of course, there are many ways of doing this— each religious order accomplishes this in accord with its unique spiritual character and gifts— as St. Vincent Pallotti encouraged, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.”
How one discerns entering religious life does not mean one has to force a change in his or her lifestyle; rather, it an acceptance of who one is and surrendering that to the God so loved since Baptism, thereby consecrating him or herself “more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church” (CCC 931). In my own discernment, I have found great relief in this understanding— that I can give myself to God as I am in love and He will help me to focus and purify that love in my heart which is to radiate from every action of Christian living. Similarly, the famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton expressed the relationship between discernment and the discerner:
Discerning vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
As the Year of Consecrated Life concludes, let us remember that it concerns not only consecrated persons but the entire Church! Where would the Church be without the examples set by Saints Francis and Augustine, Ignatius and Dominic, or Vincent Pallotti and (soon-to-be-Saint) Mother Teresa and repeated in their respective Orders? The Church would no doubt be less effective in its charity and evangelization, as Blessed Pope Paul VI observed, “the ‘salt’ of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization.” Let us then respond to Pope Francis’s call to give thanks for the incredible work done by religious around the world and for their fidelity to their respective charisms while seeking to draw close to them in times of joy and trial and assisting them in their holy endeavors. Finally, let us continue to pray for God to send more numerous vocations among their ranks: may their discernments be a model for our own, that we may echo the words of the great Carmelite Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “At last I have found my vocation: My vocation is love.”
After the Holy Father’s first visit to the United States, the Catholic Apostolate Center would like to share some of our favorite quotes from his time here. This is a two-week series where we will share 10 quotes each week. We invite you to use these quotes and images as you “Move forward! Siempre adelante!” in your journey of faith.
1. "Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love." (Homily, Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
St. Therese of Lisieux championed the “little way” of attaining holiness by doing small things with great love. Today, Pope Francis reminds us that it is in doing little things with great love that we can achieve sanctity. Try this week to incorporate the “little way” mentality into your work, your home, your parish or your school.
2. "I encourage you to be renewed in the joy of that first encounter with Jesus and to draw from that joy renewed fidelity and strength." (Homily, Mass with Bishops, Clergy and Religious, Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul)
It is the personal encounter with Jesus Christ that is at the heart of our journey to holiness. All of us are invited to have the “for me” moment of Mary after the Annunciation, who proclaimed to her cousin Elizabeth, the “Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49). This “for me” statement is the result of God’s work in our personal lives—it is the distinct relationship that each person has with God himself. Spend some time reflecting upon your personal encounter with Christ. When did it happen in your life? What great things has the Lord done for you? If you feel like you haven’t yet encountered Christ personally, ask him to open the eyes of your heart so that you may know how much you are loved.
3. “What about you? What are you going to do?” (Homily, Mass with Bishops, Clergy and Religious, Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul)
In his homily during Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis talked about the story of St. Katharine Drexel when she spoke to Pope Leo XIII about the needs of the missions.
After listening to her, Leo XIII wisely asked her, “what about you? what are you going to do?” Rather than pointing out the needs of your community, parish or school to others, why not try to fill the void or start a positive change yourself? What if we contributed constructive ideas and did some of the hard work instead of pointing out weaknesses or problems in our institutions? Many in our world today misunderstand Catholicism and the Church. Pope Francis asks us the same question today, “what about you? What are you going to do?”
4. "We are sought by God; he waits for us." (Homily, Mass on Benjamin Franklin Parkway)
Sometimes, we may feel lost or abandoned. Friends, family members or co-workers may let us down. Our lives may seem plagued by suffering, loss or confusion. In whatever situation you may find yourself in today, you are sought by God. You are loved. You are pursued. You are waited for. God, who is greater than time, is completely present to you and your life. He awaits only for your invitation. You are sought by God. Today, we invite you to seek him in return.
5. "Jesus seeks us out." (Visit to detainees at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility)
Jesus seeks us out personally. We see this in a very real way in the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus goes to the well and waits for the woman there. She goes in the middle of the day, the hottest time, in order to avoid other people in her community because she is living a life of sin. At first, the woman is defensive and even rude to Christ, but by the end of their dialogue, she proclaims that he is the Messiah and goes off to tell the whole town. Jesus is not scandalized by our sin in the sense that he will never abandon us to it or fail to seek us out in the midst of it. Christ seeks you out today at whatever well you find yourself standing by.
6. "May you make possible new opportunities; may you blaze new trails, new paths." (Visit to detainees at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility)
We are given our mission at Baptism. This mission leads us down news trails and new paths that are meant to bring us back to God and bring others along with us towards him. All of our lives have a divine purpose. We can change and sanctify the world from wherever we find ourselves. These words from Pope Francis are made more powerful given their context: he is speaking to detainees in prison. What Pope Francis is reminding them of is the importance and dignity of their lives. Regardless of the fact that they are behind bars, they can still blaze new trails and new paths. They can still pursue holiness and make new opportunities. They can still sanctify the world by their actions. Pope Francis says these words also to me and you.
7. "Do not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face." (Address for the Meeting for Religious Liberty at Independence Hall)
We are a people of Resurrection, a people called to join in the victory of Christ. If you’re going through hardship, you’re not alone. Everyone is impacted by sin, suffering and death—but Christ has given us the hope of eternal life and joy. After his Passion, when the Resurrected Christ appeared to his disciples, he told them, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:27). He promises peace that the world itself cannot give. If you’re feeling discouraged, ask Christ today for his peace. It is the peace that surpasses all understanding, but it is peace that remains despite sin, suffering and death.
8. "Let us preserve freedom. Let us cherish freedom." (Address for the Meeting for Religious Liberty at Independence Hall)
Freedom entails serving the common good. What frees us completely is self-sacrificial love. For this reason, Jesus was completely free, as was his mother Mary. They were unencumbered by selfishness, living instead for others. Our nation was built on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Pope Francis reminded the United States of this foundation in his address at Independence Hall, calling us to preserve and cherish freedom. We do this day by day when we imitate Jesus and Mary by living for others.
9. "Go out, again and again, go out without fear, go out without hesitation. Go out and proclaim this joy which is for all the people." (Mass at Madison Square Garden)
We are called to be witnesses of the joy of the Gospel daily. One act of love or service is not enough. We can often get complacent with our good deeds and actions—a temptation the Pharisees fell into. Instead, we are called each day to ask, “what more can I do for Christ? How can I continue to grow? Are there people that need my love, respect or attention?” Pope Francis’ words revitalize us. Go out again and again in hope, with joy and with courage to proclaim the of Christ.
10. "Go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side." (Mass at Madison Square Garden )
Part of the good news is that God walks at our side. We are never alone in proclaiming the Gospel or in pursuing holiness. God is with us—giving us everything we need through other people, prayer, his grace, the sacraments. When we fall, he picks us back up. When we are weak, he carries us. We live in the joy of knowing we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (cf Philippians 4:13). This joy impels us to proclaim this good new to others.
For more resources from Pope Francis' Papal Visit to the United States, please visit http://www.papalvisit2015.us.
Born in 1873 as Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, St. Thérèse of Lisieux was a Carmelite nun with an intense devotion to Christ. She had a simple yet profound understanding of her faith and her relationship with Christ. She provided examples to us of how to be Christ-like to those in our lives through prayer and acts of charity. St. Thérèse died at only 24 years old of tuberculosis, but lived an immense life of faith.
In his homily at the Mass where she was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997, now-Saint John Paul II talked about the way in which Thérèse lived: “She counters a rational culture, so often overcome by practical materialism, with the disarming simplicity of the ‘little way’ which, by returning to the essentials, leads to the secret of all life: the Divine Love that surrounds and penetrates every human venture.”
Her example of living your life of faith by practicing little deeds has inspired many Catholics because it is an easy concept to grasp. We are all capable of doing something small to show our love to those around us. In his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis talked about the importance of doing small acts of faith.
“Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded’, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.”
The parish in which I grew up is now known as the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, MI. Made famous by the “Radio Priest,” Rev. Charles Coughlin in the 1930s, the building itself became a place of comfort and welcoming for me while in my youth, and the patroness, St. Thérèse, an example and spiritual guide.
As a student in the parish school, I felt a sense of connection with young Thérèse. She made being a saint and apostle of Christ accessible to me in a way that is much more profound in hindsight. Because she was so young and the fact that the Church made such a huge deal about her, through her canonization and being made a Doctor of the Church, was inspiring to me as a child. Maybe I had the ability to follow in her footsteps. Maybe I could live a life worthy of sainthood, even though I was only a kid.
St. Thérèse herself says, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” (From No Greater Love by Mother Teresa)
Her love of Christ and devotion to his Church provides all of us with a path for our lives. As Catholics, we do not need to do great things to show others the face of God. Rather, we need to do what we can and do that in the best way possible with the talents God has given us. For some, that may be serving the Church as a lector at Mass or discerning a religious vocation or something as simple as smiling at a stranger on your commute to work.
To this day, I still follow St. Thérèse’s example of living out my faith in little ways. She continues to inspire me to live a life worthy of sainthood.