Friday, January 2, 2015

Word for the Day: Saints

“Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you,” writes John in today’s reading. The word I heard from the beginning of my pilgrim walk in the Catholic Church was saints. 

People are surprised by this. I did not hear the voice of God. I did not hear the call of Christ. I was not attracted by the Holy Eucharist or the sacrament of confession.

I heard about the saints. I was moved by the witness of certain men and women who had lived by the teachings of the Catholic Church since the time of Jesus of Nazareth. I was impressed by their example. Eventually, when another system of thought disintegrated within me, I leapt to join the saints. Thus the phrase in the creed that moves me most is the communion of saints. 

Joining the saints was a leap. I didn’t know much about the Church when I entered RCIA and started my six-month basic training in Catholicism. I only knew that I had always wanted God in my life, that the path I had been following led me nowhere, and that these holy folks seemed to understand where to walk. It was as simple as that.

I think of this today, as the New Year 2015 opens before me with its gift of possibility, because my daily mass reader reminds me that today we honor Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen. Who, you say? That’s what I said too. Never heard of them.

But as a Catholic you learn. Then the year turns, they return for another bow, and you learn a bit more. The beauty of the liturgical calendar is that we honor the same saints on the same days every year. If it’s January 2, they must be St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. The Church honors a number of lesser known saints today as well, but these two get star billing.

It might surprise the Protestant or non-Christian to learn that I have no clue what (if any) miracles are associated with Basil and Greg, who were friends and may have referred to each other in such a familiar way. I don’t know the miracles associated with the saints I have cared most about in my religious life either: Thomas More, Joan of Arc, Joseph, Thérèse of Lisieux, and André Bessette, in chronological order.

The saints are not about miracles for me. With the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, miracles are not usually front and center when Catholics contemplate the saints. You can single out Mary because shrines like Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadeloupe, are miracle factories. Pilgrims go to them for miracles.

The Oratory of St. Joseph was such a shrine when Brother André was alive (1845–1937). It was considered the Lourdes of North America, because he himself served as a locus of healing—though he always disclaimed miraculous power himself. He laid it all to St. Joseph whom he followed around, he said, like a little dog.

Miracles are never the point, not even with Mary. Holy lives are the point, and the possibility that in modeling myself after some of these people, something of them may rub off. The saints tell me, This worked for once-ordinary people like myself, none more ordinary than Brother André, a poor, sickly man of limited schooling and, some said, intelligence.

The saints tell me something like what Francis says in the film “Brother Son, Sister Moon,” about which I wrote recently. In the film Francis says, referring to his followers, “If it be true for me, why should it not be true for them?”

So say I. If it was true for Francis, Thomas, Joan, Joseph, Sister Thérèse, Brother André, and even two “Greeks” I know little about, Basil and Gregory, then why should it not be true for me?

In the end, faith is highly reasonable.

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