Thursday, January 7, 2016

My saint of this year

Growing up, I attended a girls' youth group. We met each week and the schedule always looked something like this: games, a reflection on some scripture passage, a brief "talk" led by our team leader (usually on a virtue), sharing of saint stories or inspiration from real-life stories we'd heard, prayer time, and then resolution-making (as in one concrete thing we'd focus on for the week, like offering to help more around the house or saying an extra prayer at bed time).

However, toward the end of the year, like most people in the world, we'd start thinking about the upcoming year, some bigger resolutions and reflections on the past year. One thing in particular we'd do was to choose a saint for the next year whom we'd try and get to know better. If you aren't familiar with Catholic saints, it's not as strange as it sounds. In fact, for me, it's one of the most beautiful aspects of being Catholic. 

Fr. James Martin explains saints and Catholic devotion to them so well in his book, My Life with the Saints, which is perhaps my favorite Catholic novel. I can't recommend it enough. In the introduction, he writes: 


He goes on:


Praying to saints is not a very far-fetched theory when you consider them to simply be friends or companions and want to ask for their help, just in the same way you'd ask a friend for help or to pray for you. (Of course, saints are dead, but so are other people whom we still think of quite fondly in the afterlife like grandparents, teachers, or children.) Technically, a saint is a man or woman who has been canonized by the Catholic Church (but really, anyone in heaven is a saint!). The reason the Church formally declares people as saints at all is to hold them up as a model of holiness for the rest of us. How hopeful it is for us to have models of virtues, of people who have sinned greatly and yet went on to lead holy lives! 

I also love that saints are not just priests or nuns or kings, but mothers & fathers, soldiers, teachers, academics, doormen, athletes, etc. etc. There are as many different kinds of saints as there are people after all. For me, it's one of the most inclusive aspects of being Catholic. Anyone can be a saint! And they do not need to have great worldly accomplishments or to pray a lot or write great spiritual tomes (and actually probably more saints have been poor, uneducated, and in the eyes of the world, a "nobody").

There are many saints that I love dearly, just the same way that I love my friends. I really do feel a closeness and affection for them! And like many friendships, they often appear in the particular time and place that you really need them. For example, in law school, I found myself particularly close to three Thomases, for reasons that are probably apparent.

1. St. Thomas More, English lawyer, closest advisor of King Henry VIII, husband, father. Notably said whilst dying, "I die the king's good servant, but God's first." 

2. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dominican priest, philosopher, and theologian. I'll assume you've heard of him. I also assumed in law school that he would help me with my studies (he did).

see below for source credit,
but look how recent of saint he is! not some ancient painting :)

3. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and mystic. Wrote The Seven Storey Mountain, promoted ecumenical dialogue, dipped his toe in lots of things that made people uncomfortable (Zen Buddhism,  Taoism, protesting racism and the Vietnam War, and eventually, a shower too close to an electric fan....not a great way to go. Anyways.) Spoke many truths, including this which I think about very often: 

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. 
Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”

Besides the Thomases, saints I feel particularly close to are St. Lucy, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. John Paul II, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Joseph, and St. Sebastian.

Inspired by my youth group memories of choosing a saint, this year, Lewis and I chose saints to get to know better this year. To make things interesting, we used a random saint generator (ha! the internet has everything) to find some more obscure people who probably/hopefully have ample time to pay attention to us. 

I got.... St. Jan Sarkander! And Lewis pulled Bl. Bernard Scammacca. They are so random! Haha. I am so excited. St. Jan and Bl. Bernard, pray for us!

Photo credit of Thomas Merton: "TMertonStudy" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TMertonStudy.jpg#/media/File:TMertonStudy.jpg

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