All posts tagged: saints

The Very Human Fears of the Saints

“Am I to stay here alone?” This question, posed by Servant of God Lucia Santos to the Blessed Mother during a 1917 Fatima apparition, introduced a raw, intimate urgency to their dialogue. Having just been informed that her two cousins and fellow seers, Jacinta and Francisco, would soon succumb to illness and pass into communion with God, Lucia learns of her own mission to remain on earth, continuing a hidden life of prayer and evangelization. Her immediate, reactionary question reveals a fundamental human, and particularly Christian, insecurity.[1] Created for communion with God and with one another, the fear of abandonment—of being left to face our existential realities alone—lingers in the recesses of the human heart, surfacing during times of insecurity, transition, and uncertainty. It is tempting, at times, to convince ourselves that saints like Lucia were somehow exempt from these human insecurities. Perhaps the saints were granted a sort of supernatural clarity to dispel crippling doubts and inhibitions, or a keen sense of spiritual sight that allowed them to identify and respond to human need, …

The Church Has a Morbid Streak

I was in my mid-twenties when my father handed me his 1929 edition of Sigrid Undset’s Nobel Prize-winning trilogy, Kristen Lavransdatter, and said, “I think you’ll really like this.” This is typically how my dad makes his book recommendations. He puts a story in your hands and says, “I think you’ll really like this.” It took a few years and a couple of starts and stops to get through this massive historical novel set in medieval Catholic Norway. The tome sat at the bottom of a stack for while, but in the end, I fell in love with Kristin Lavransdatter, which I have often described as not unlike Augustine’s Confessions if the Confessions were written in third person feminine voice and set in medieval Scandinavia. Sigrid Undset became one of my favorite authors because her writing reveals that rare perception of the pain and beauty of St. Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Without affect, sentimentality, or illusion her writing expresses the realities of the …

Jazz: A Foretaste of Eternal Life

Throughout Scripture, there are more than 1,000 references to all things musical—songs, singing, instruments, and the like. These passages identify music as a beautifully appropriate way to praise God not only here on earth, but also in the eternal joy of heaven. As a lifelong musician, I’ve always been especially comforted by the reassurance that, whatever else life in heaven is like, music will definitely be a part of it. More recently, as a composer, I’ve often found myself wondering what exactly this music will sound like. Some Scripture passages seem to imply a capella (unaccompanied vocal) music, for example, “I thank you, LORD, with all my heart; in the presence of the angels to you I sing” (Ps 138:1). On the other hand, Isaiah tells us that “we will sing to stringed instruments in the house of the LORD all the days of our life” (Is 38:20). That sounds appealing; who doesn’t love a good string quartet? The psalmist goes several instruments further in his final song of praise: Hallelujah! Praise God in his …

Christ’s Story Runs Deeper: The Sanctified Imagination

In his collection of “diagnostic essays,” The Message in the Bottle, Walker Percy reflects on the particular idiosyncrasies of the modern milieu, offering a prognosis for the malaise that manifests itself in pervasive cultural symptoms of dis-ease and dissatisfaction. In one essay, “The Loss of the Creature,” Percy perceptively identifies the modern human as having been reduced to “a consumer of a prepared experience.”[1] Essentially, in a society of mass-produced goods and televised reality, consumers have begun to hunger for authenticity. The human being wants “to certify their experience as genuine.”[2] The modern creature hungers to know herself as a “sovereign wayfarer”[3] forging her own path of exploration and discovery, rather than a shopper selecting predetermined experiences. Percy’s sense of the crisis of the modern person to find a genuine experience resonates particularly in terms of the social narratives in which human beings live. Cultural narratives control our imaginations and our actions, and these narratives can so tangibly shape the life we lead and the person we become. Our lives are determined by many narratives …

St. Maximillian Kolbe and the War Against Indifference

More than one concentration camp survivor has remarked that one would need the pen of Dante to describe the horrors that afflicted the “great army of unknown and unrecorded victims.”[1] Hell is that abyss that skews vision and slurs speech. It shreds human community by erasing all marks of personal identity by eviscerating of all bonds of human communion—trust, mercy, and love. During Mass celebrated at Auschwitz on June 7, 1979, John Paul II described the concentration camp as a “place, which was built for the negation of faith—faith in God and faith in man—and to trample radically not only on love but on all signs of human dignity, a place built on hatred and on contempt for man in the name of a crazed ideology. A place built on cruelty.”[2] A place “characterized by man’s fury and scorn for man, in which man was cut down to the level of a robot, a state worse than slavery.”[3] This was an era in which “the human person was degraded, humiliated, and despised. In this poisoned …

The Ignatian Spiritual Journey

For those who desire to learn more about St. Ignatius of Loyola, the first thought might be to read his Autobiography, which he dictated later in life. Yet the Autobiography of Ignatius is not a rich narrative full of stories, events, and insights. Those reading it for the first time may find the style terse, abrupt, and lacking details that would seem to bring the narrative to life. More than just a story of his life, the Autobiography reflects Ignatius’ understanding of the way God works with him, a pedagogy that Ignatius adopts in his Spiritual Exercises to assist others in their own journey with God. It is through experiencing the Spiritual Exercises that one comes to a fuller understanding of Ignatius and his spiritual journey. Following his injury and convalescence at Loyola, Ignatius experiences a profound conversion. Striving to free himself from the vainglory that dominated his first thirty years of life, Ignatius begins his new life with his confession and vigil at Montserrat. As his passion to serve the court as a knight …

The Hiddenness of St. André Bessette

For centuries, January 6 has marked the celebration of Epiphany, and many Christian communities throughout the world will still observe that feast today. However, for dioceses within the United States, the celebration of Epiphany has been transferred to the Sunday after January 6. To weigh the merits and demerits of that decision isn’t the purpose of this post; rather, it’s to consider the man whose optional memorial we in the United States are invited to celebrate this January 6: St. André Bessette, C.S.C., who entered eternal life eighty years ago today. For those of us at the University of Notre Dame, St. André Bessette holds a special place as the first saint canonized from the Congregation of Holy Cross, the order which founded Our Lady’s University. St. André is a particularly poignant model of sainthood for those who mistakenly believe that sanctity is synonymous with success (a trap into which many of us in academia often fall). Indeed, the eyes of the world, St. André’s life could hardly be called successful, but through the grace …

A bishop, St. Thomas Becket, against the backdrop of blue.

Thomas Becket and the Witness of Friendship

“I give my life To the Law of God above the Law of Man” —Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot[i] Thomas Becket, whose feast of martyrdom is observed today, is a highly celebrated figure of English Christianity, commemorated in painting, verse, and drama since his 12th century assassination. The story of Thomas Becket’s unlikely rise to Archbishop of Canterbury is chronicled in Peter Glenville’s film Becket (1964). Although it tells the story of Becket’s martyrdom, the heart of Glenville’s tale is Becket’s friendship with Henry; he frames the film with scenes of Henry II at Becket’s tomb, addressing his deceased friend. Becket sets up a medieval buddy movie, which is ruined by God. There is, of course, more to Thomas Becket’s story than simply his friendship with King Henry II. But the particular sacrifice of friendship, love, and loyalty that the film paints is a striking hue of Becket’s portrait, and a touching testament to the singular witness that friendship plays in the life of faith. The film starts with the puerile shenanigans of Becket …

Weeping with Rachel, in Sorrow and Hope

There are some stereotypes that often accompany the college stage of a woman’s life. Some (like loving babies, studying in coffee shops, etc), I embraced. Others I did my absolute best to avoid (and we’ll leave those ones to the imagination). My friends and I all proudly took up an affection for and gravitation toward all infants and young children within a mile radius as our stereotypical banner of choice. In fact, we had an unspoken arrangement that involved immediately informing each other of the presence of any nearby bundle(s) of joy. My girlfriends and I reveled in the wonder that small children have; we discussed how there is nothing on this earth more precious than tiny fingers, toes, and noses; we felt the urge to play peek-a-boo with any and all small children who crossed our paths. And if we saw a little tyke just wobbily learning to walk, it was absolutely the game-over-highlight of our day. Not having children of our own yet meant that we certainly still had a somewhat romanticized view of young children …

“Little Children, Love One Another”

For reasons I can’t sufficiently explain, I find that the saints honored by the Church during the Christmas season somehow call my attention a little more than those celebrated at other times of the year. Perhaps it’s because these saints seem to be made more radiant in the glow of the Christmas celebration. Today the Church honors one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. John has long been a source of fascination for me: my younger brother shares his name, and because of that, when I was a small child, my ears always perked up at Mass whenever I heard the name “John” mentioned. (They still do.) As an adult, I am even more fascinated by St. John the Evangelist—his Gospel and epistles contain some of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Were I ever to share John’s fate and be banished to an island like Patmos, I would take his writings with me, for I feel certain that I could spend the rest of my life studying …