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Walking with the Saints
I've been reading "My Life with the Saints" by Fr. James Martin, SJ. It is a spiritual memoir in which Fr. Martin shares how he became acquainted with various saints and what prompted him to want to learn more about these models of holiness. Different saints have provided him inspiration and aid at the varying stages of his life. Among them are the plastic St. Jude statue that was relegated to his sock drawer when he was a teenager, Thomas Merton who in many ways was responsible for Fr. Martin's movement toward the priesthood, and Pope John XXIII who provided a model for living a chaste celibate life.
The saints have been my friends as well as I have moved through life. When I was a young girl, my mother would take me to "The Open Window" - our diocesan bookstore - where I could pick out books on the saints. The ones I remember most were written by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik. Each page featured a beautiful painting of a saint and his or her corresponding bibliography. Once I was able to read more fluently, I devoured the saints' lives in our Catholic school library with a vengeance, so much so that the school librarian actually suggested I broaden my horizons and read something else. (I know she meant well - she had no idea that I would actually spend my life studying theology!) My mother had a deep devotion to St. Therese and at the age of eight or nine I read her autobiography "The Story of a Soul." Looking back, I imagine much of the book probably went over my head at that time, but how I wanted to be like her! Her "Little Way" was something even a child could understand. I wanted to be holy like the saints were holy.
Of course, as a teenager, my devotion to the saints wavered a bit. I still prayed to them, of course. St. Anthony is foolproof when searching for lost objects! And St. Anne, whose name I took for my confirmation, I prayed to for meeting a good man and to make the right decision about getting married. I have always prayed to St. Therese for my sister (who bears her name). And St. Jude was always there for lost causes. But along the way I learned that many of the things we know about saints' lives are mostly legends and this diminished them in my adolescent opinion. In college and graduate school, the saints didn't get much attention either - the exception being a course I took on "A Reasoned Faith" which focused on Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, and one on "Christian Spirituality" which introduced me to the likes of Teresa of Avila, Edith Stein, and Dorothy Day.
As an adult, however, I have come to appreciate the saints even more. I obviously have more to pray for these days and it is a great benefit to have these holy persons intercede on one's behalf. St. Anne watches over my children and helps me to be a good mother. St. Jude and St. Peregrine help those I know who are ill and/or battling cancer. St. Therese is still busy watching over my sister and her family. But I have also come to appreciate the role models the saints provide. In reading about them, one becomes aware of their humanity. These people failed. Many of them lived sinful lives before their conversion. They faced temptations, lost loved ones, suffered from illnesses, and faced the dark night of the soul. Through it all, however, they retained their faith and trust in God. They sought God's will instead of their own. Their ways of being holy are as different as each human is from every other. God calls us each to be holy in our own way and that is remarkably comforting.
Now, I am introducing my own children to these amazing people and the help they can provide. We have been using "Patron Saint Cardlinks" by Thomas Craughwell and reading one saint a night before bed. They and I have learned wonderful things like St. Brigid is the patron saint of students, particularly appropriate since David is starting Kindergarten, and that St. Raphael protects against bad dreams. We now pray to that particular angel on a regular basis. The children have been enjoying these stories greatly and it has helped them appreciate the whole communion of saints, that there are all these holy people up in heaven just waiting to help them out. I hope as they grow that they will develop a friendship with at least one or two of them. Like Fr. Martin in "My Life with the Saints," we should all go through life walking with the saints by our side.