Who Are The Saints We Turn To?

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When I was young, I loved to read about Joan of Arc. It was many years before I discovered she was a saint. It just wasn’t part of my growing up to associate her with religion; not really. I know she talked to G-d; I mean, so did I! I wasn’t Christian so I didn’t grow up attending church. But I knew Joan of Arc. She was a part of my girlhood, like Anne Frank, another young girl, someone I could relate to who also died too young. These were my heroes.

In my recent years of finding Catholicism and spirituality, I’ve added to my “collection” of saints and saintly people. I love hearing that saints are just like us. I’ve also learned that they are an outgrowth of their times. Sometimes their lives are huge and important and sometimes their deaths are, but in a lot of times, they are just ordinary people who do or preach extraordinary things. I know that today is All Saints Day, but I was still taken aback by the number of times I was called by the saints in the last two weeks.

Once I put this topic on my calendar a few weeks ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about it and the saints I look to in my life. They do change depending on the circumstances. I didn’t start reading on any of them in particular, but I looked at the saints for the day, seeing which feast days were coming up and thought a lot of who I felt the closest to.

Throughout October, I had been attending weekly zoom presentations on Diversity in Spirituality. Last week’s lecture was given by Dr. Kim Harris of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. Her focus was on Black Americans, their experience, their worship, and their saints (and lack thereof). In addition to music and talk of the ancestors, Dr. Harris also asked the following question:

In our troubled and tumultuous times, what kinds of saints do we need or what kinds of saints do we need to be?

I was stunned into silence. That is very nearly the exact question I put on my calendar, the one that I’ve been contemplating on for the past two weeks, and here it was as our breakout room assignment!

What kinds of saints do we need in our lives right now indeed?

In conjunction to that synchronism and along with all of these thought provoking happenings, yesterday, I also attended a scheduled Day of Reflection centered on walking and praying with the saints. I had been looking forward to this day for several weeks and it did not disappoint. It also led me in my continuation of thinking about the saints and who I feel the closest to.

This was a question that I had been giving a lot of thought to, although in my mind I hadn’t phrased it quite like that at all. I’ll share a few thoughts with you.

I’ve mentioned Joan of Arc earlier. I was always enthralled by her hearing voices and following as well as being able to command an army. Maybe it was because I grew up in the feminist wave of the 70s that it seemed impossible to ignore and easy to admire.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is a newer, local saint. Her birthplace is in upstate New York at the village where the North American Jesuit Martyrs died although they weren’t there at the same time. The spring where St. Kateri was baptized is there, and I am hoping to be in good enough shape to go through the woods to the spring sometime in 2021.

St. Elen is my personal saint, the patron of travelers and roads. I chose her for my saint’s name for my confirmation in 2014. Upon finding her, I found so many things about her that I could relate to as well as having been in her homeland, literally where she walked the earth although I did not know it at the time. I was fortunate to be able to pilgrimage to one of her holy wells in Wales in 2017, and it still gives me pause when I remember my times there.

Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein draw me back to my Jewishness and my Jewish upbringing. I know that Maximilian Kolbe wasn’t Jewish but he was killed in the camps in Nazi Germany as was Edith Stein. It reminds me that others (in Edith Stein’s case) have walked a similar path to mine.

I was drawn to Mary, Untier of Knots through Pope Francis’ devotion, and it has only grown stronger over the years. There is something very familiar about untying knots as a mother from shoelaces to necklaces to yarn and in needlework, not to mention the untying and smoothing that goes along metaphorically.

St. Dafydd is, of course, the patron saint of Wales, a place that I feel connected to since I first set foot there in 1987.

And finally, in this moment at least, Mary Magdalene. I didn’t know much about her; her life was co-opted a bit and confused with others, but what I do know and believe is that she followed Jesus from very early on. She was the first of his disciples to see him after his Resurrection, and she brought the word of his Resurrection to the apostles, becoming the first to bring the Holy Word of Jesus to others after his death. I love that she is the Apostle to the Apostles and that she is in history as someone who can possibly convert hearts to allow women priest and preachers.

Which saints are you drawn to during these difficult times of chaos and uncertainity?

Art is mine based on the song:
Saints Of God In Glory
Frank Brownstead · Bernadette Farrell · St. Thomas More Group, 1991.
(c)2020

Listen here.

Feast of St. Francis de Sales

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Today is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales. He was born in Chateau de Sales to a noble family in 1567. He enjoyed a privileged education, eventually becoming a Bishop and a Doctor of the Church before his death in 1622.

He was canonized in 1665.

His motto in Latin is Non-excidet which translates to He will not fail or He will not give up, either appropriate for his patronage of writers and journalists.

Some of his words of wisdom may be found here, but I include some of my favorites below:

Be who you are and be that well.

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.


Such simple advice, common sense thoughts, and yet…so much more, so much to contemplate.

Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with him until meeting my friend, Brother Mickey McGrath who is a Salesian Oblate. He is also an artist. This is his most recent offering. Clicking it will direct you to his website where you can see his other works including his books on variety of spiritual/religious topics, saints, and Popes. It is well worth your time.

Lakota Mary & Jesus with Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr. quotation. All rights reserved Mickey O’Neill McGrath. (c)2020

Mary Magdalene

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​I have always been intrigued by Mary Magdalene, maybe because with all the followers of Jesus she kind of stood out. She wasn’t his mother or other family member; she wasn’t the daughter or spouse of one of his followers, but she seemed to drift in and out of the Gospels much the way the other Apostles did. She was from the same area as most of the Apostles, near the Sea of Galilee, probably from the fishing town of Magdala, which appears to give her its name.

While Jesus didn’t particularly send her on mission work away from him as he did with the other Apostles, she was there to witness His ministry and evangelize about it, traveling after the Resurrection to the far reaches of Gaul, preaching His Word there, and then spending her final years in prayer and contemplation in a cave in France, near Arles, called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Prior to her thirty years of solitude, she preached and taught after arriving in a rudderless boat, showing us modern Catholics the inclusion of women preachers from the beginning. (One needs only look to St. Brigid and St. Hildegard of Bingen for two examples that Mary was not the only woman in this role). Her journey is not well documented, and as with much of her life is sometimes conflated with both Mary of Bethany and the sinful woman (from Luke’s Gospel). However, she is mentioned by name twelve times throughout all four Gospels suggesting that had she been anyone else, it would have been mentioned. It took until 1969 when the conflation was officially removed by Pope Paul VI and she was acknowledged on her own.

For a long time, and sometimes even today, she was thought to be a prostitute or the wife of Jesus, both of which are deemed historically inaccurate. On the other hand, she was beset by seven demons, all of which Jesus drove away. She may have chosen to follow him after he performed this miracle and returned her to herself. Either way, she appears to have been a part of his earthly ministry for most of his time and then after. Unfortunately, she left behind no writings of her own.

I also find the stories of her prominence in Jesus’ discipleship believable because of John and Paul’s depiction of her in such an important and dominant part of the resurrection narrative. I have observed both of them to be sexist and dismissive of women, and so I think their inclusion of Mary gives more weight to her role as well as a stronger plausibility in my mind. In fact, in the Gospel of John, he characterizes her as the first apostle.

In appearing in all four Gospels as she did, she is shown from different perspectives and parts of the whole story of what she witnessed. Being the earliest of the four, I’m more inclined to agree with Mark’s image of the empty tomb rather than some of the other representations.

She traveled alongside Jesus as he led his ministry both as witness and disciple. She isn’t seen in a woman’s role (as Martha and Mary were in their household). She also is not an elder wise woman or a mother like Elizabeth. She asks for little if anything unlike the mother of Apostles, James and John. In fact, Luke’s Gospel talks about her support of Jesus’ ministry financially.

She remained in Jerusalem and near to Jesus for the crucifixion, his burial, and resurrection. She is the one who discovered that his tomb was empty and was the first witness of that event, and upon further scrutiny discovered Jesus himself, although she did not recognize him at first. He directed her to return to the other apostles and announce his return. She was the first one to testify to his Resurrection, and in telling the Good News to the Apostles, she is rightly called the Apostle to the Apostles.

Her feast day is today, and a few of her patronages are close to my own heart. In addition to places she is patron of, she also watches over and intercedes for apothecaries, contemplative life, converts, and women.

Today’s Readings:

Collect 

O God, whose Only Begotten Son entrusted Mary Magdalene before all others with announcing the great joy of the Resurrection, grant, we pray, that through her intercession and example we may proclaim the living Christ and come to see him reigning in your glory. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 20:1-2, 11-18 

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”Jesus said to her, “Mary!”She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”and then reported what he told her.

Further reading:

Who was Mary Magdalene?
Unknown Role of Christian Women in the Early Church
Thoughts on Women in Ministry
Did the Vatican Hide Art that Depicted Female Priests?

Blessed Feast Day of St. Joan of Arc

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I was born to do this.

As I set out my writing schedule for the rest of this month and next month, I was surprised at how much randomly drew my mind back to my childhood, my “girl”-hood and the heroes I had as a young person. They’ve returned to me over the years in one way or another. I wrote briefly yesterday about my recent encounters with Harriet Tubman. Next month is the birthday of Anne Frank who I loved and revered as a child, and who I will write about then. The CW network has a new series coming out in the fall of Nancy Drew! I loved the books, still do, and the series with the Hardy Boys from the 70s/80s. Laura Ingalls also comes to mind and of course her television counterpart, Melissa Gilbert.

Today, however, is the feast day of St. Joan of Arc. As a child learning about and reading about her, I don’t think I knew she was a saint. We weren’t Catholic, so my only exposure to Joan would have been through school books and history books as well as book reports and those types of school assignments that I was expected to do.

I have always believed in voices from beyond or experiences that don’t always fit neatly into our boxes to be tied with a ribbon. What’s funny and ironic in that belief is my usual cynicism that grabs onto any and every thought, but meeting ghosts, hearing voices, seeing visions, I almost accept universally, although myself more while less so from others along with a healthy grain of salt.

Like me, Joan of Arc was a girl. She sat under a tree and contemplated and when she heard the words from G-d, she was not immediately accepting, but she acquiesced to her duty. She changed her clothes, her ways, taking on the mantle of a soldier, cutting her hair short, donning a helm, armor and gauntlets and boots. She was determined to do G-d’s will, and she wouldn’t back down despite the lack of seriousness the men offered to her words. She boosted the French army’s morale.

They would eventually follow her to victory.

Was she fearless?

Probably not, but she had faith. Not faith in her survival, but in following G-d’s guidance and trusting in his will.

She was taken prisoner by an English faction and was put on trial for heresy by a pro-English bishop. The determination was already set; it was nothing more than a show trial. I was taken by some of the questions they asked her and the answers she gave.

In one exchange, they asked about when she saw the vision of the Archangel Michael and wanted to know if he was naked. I think that this was a real moment of misogyny (amidst all of the other examples of medieval misogyny) to try and embarrass her or suggest that this wasn’t G-d’s work, but some child’s fantasy.

Question at Trial: “Was he naked?”

“Do you think God has not wherewithal to clothe him?”

In the end, Joan of Arc was found guilty and was burned at the stake. She knew she was being punished by man; not G-d.

And it wasn’t long after, twenty-five years that the church reversed itself. Pope Callixtus III pronounced her innocent and declared her a martyr. She actually wasn’t officially canonized in 1920.

She is the patron of soldiers, prisoners, and people ridiculed for their piety among others.

As with Harriet Tubman, there was a alot more here than I ever learned, and I’ve only scratched the surface.

My favorite quote of hers with context:

Question at Trial: “Do you know if you are in the grace of God?”

“If I am not, may God place me there; if I am, may God so keep me. I should be the saddest in all the world if I knew that I were not in the grace of God. But if I were in a state of sin, do you think the Voice would come to me? I would that every one could hear the Voice as I hear it. I think I was about thirteen when it came to me for the first time.”Joan of Arc

(Source: from https://www.biographyonline.net/quotes/joan-arc.html)

Please take the time and read The Song of Joan of Arc by Christine de Pizan. This link that I’ve shared also includes the transcripts of the trials and other documents. I think you’ll find them fascinating.

St. Elen, Pray for Us

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Today is the feast day of my own saint, Saint Elen. There is little known about her, but I still find what is available about her fasinating. It’s taken me more than a few years to complete this project, and hopefully next week, I will have actual cards made for anyone who wishes one, but for now, I’d like to share with you the prayer card I made for my patron: St. Elen.

Continue reading

Sister Thea Bowman, A Ministry of Joy

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Sister Thea Bowman addressing the USCCB:

Sr. Thea Bowman was born in 1937 on December 29th. This was in Mississippi and her parents named her Bertha. She was the granddaughter of slaves; her parents were a doctor and a teacher. She was raised Methodist, but when she was nine years old, she converted to Roman Catholicism. At 15, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

Over the years, she received a B.A., a M.A., and a PhD in English and then went on to teach. She also received an honorary doctorate in theology from Boston College. She was a poet, a preacher, and a teacher, and she used all of those embodiments to bring a light to her calling that couldn’t help but be infectious to her contemporaries and those of us who have come after and continue to read of her works.

“When we understand our history and culture, then we can develop the ritual, the music and the devotional expression that satisfy us in the Church.”

She said this and it illustrates her impact on the development of a particular worship dedicated to and for Black Catholics. She was invaluable in the 1987 publication of the Catholic Hymnal, Lead Me, Guide Me: The Arican-American Catholic Hymnal.

Her essay, The Gift of African-American Sacred Song can be downloaded by clicking on the title.

Her “ministry of joy” led the Diocese of Mississippi to bring her on as a consultant for intercultural awareness. In reading up on Sr. Thea, I really preferred this descriptor of intercultural rather than multi-cultural. It feels more natural to me. A person who knew her called her “the springtime in everyone’s life,” a visual that leaps out in color and light and blue sky.

Imagine what more she could have done and influenced in the past twenty-nine years had she not died at the young age of 52, on today’s date in 1990 of bone cancer.

There are at least twelve institutions named for her from Boston in the east to as far west as Illinois.

The Diocese (of Mississippi) has begun the research into Sr. Thea’s “heroic virtues” after which a cause for canonization can be opened in Rome if warranted.

Two of her written works you could look into for more from Sr. Thea are:

Families, Black and Catholic, Catholic and Black. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference. Commission on Marriage and Family Life, 1985.

Thea Bowman: In My Own Words. Liguori, Mo.: Liguori Publications, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7648-1782-3. index of Bowman’s speeches, writings, and interviews, with a brief biographical sketch and epilogue (with Maurice J. Nutt)

I will leave you with her own words that spoke to me prayerfully earlier this week:

“Maybe I’m not making big changes in the world, but if I have somehow helped or encouraged somebody along the journey, then I’ve done what I’m called to do.

Sundays in Lent – 4th Saturday

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Blessed be
the grass beneath my feet,
the sky above my head,
the air in my lungs,
the wind at my back,
the scent of incense,
and the sight of its rising.

Confess as Patrick
Share Christ’s voice as Columba
Spread my cloak across the land as Brigid
Teach and write as Finbarr, Aidan, and Bede
Navigate the way as Brendan

Blessed be
the shelter, the sustenance, the faith.
Follow.
Be present.
Be open.

Blessed be we.

20/52 – St. Elen, my patron saint

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There is very little information on St. Elen, the saint I chose for my confirmation. She is the patron of road builders and travellers. She is coincidentally from the place I visited in 2009 without knowing it as well as one of her holy wells being in the town I visited in 1987, also unbeknownst to me. I’m hoping to pilgrimage there this summer if at all possible.

Here is some insight into some of the reasons I chose her.

This is copied from my original post about St. Elen.

Initially, I was seeking out a Welsh saint because of my long spiritual connection to Wales and the Celtic peoples, but upon discovering St. Elen, I discovered that there were several other reasons why I connected to her.

First and foremost, Ellen was my mother’s middle name and it gives me a connection to her as I join the church. My first teacher, who taught me lessons of generosity and the importance of family.

Secondly, Elen is from Caernarfon, the town in which I stayed for three nights in 2009. It hadn’t been on my list of places to visit until a Welsh friend randomly suggested it that I should go there and see the castle.

Her daughter is said to have married Vortigern, the only source for their marriage being carved on the Eliseg Pillar which is very near Valle Crucis Abbey, another Welsh place I gravitated to.

Ellen is also one of my favorite television characters: mother, business owner, independent, smart, how could I go wrong?

11-52 -Do the Little Things

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St. David’s most widely known miracle was while he was preaching at the Synod of Brefi when a small hill rose beneath his feet so he could be seen and heard by those assembled. A white dove took its place on David’s shoulder. What preacher or public speaker wouldn’t want to be seen and heard more clearly? He also gave sight to a blind man and raised a widow’s son from the dead.

He established monastic settlements throughout Wales. His brand of monasticism was through simplicity and asceticism.

They [the monks] were to pull the plow themselves, eat only bread and vegetables, herbs, drink only water, own nothing and pray each and every evening.

They looked after travelers and the poor. Beekeeping was one of their other many missions.

Born around 500, he died, probably in 589 on March 1st, his feast day since the 12th century, and is buried at the Cathedral bearing his name in St. David’s, Pembrokeshire. His shrine was a popular pilgrimage during the Middle Ages and his relics are still there today.

Ironically for me, his flag is in Hufflepuff colors, a yellow cross on a black background. His symbol is a leek.

He is the patron of Wales, vegetarians, poets, and doves.

His last words to his followers were:

Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.

Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywydDo the little things in life has become a well-known inspirational saying in Wales.

This is such a good philosphy for everyone to have and to try and live by. We all have those moments of wanting to help or do something for someone else, but feel overwhelmed by the scope of what to do and how to do it. Moving forward with simplicity and doing the little things  are ways we can all contribute to someone else’s well-being. Start small. Offer to drive an elderly neighbor to the grocery store or to church. Mow someone’s lawn. Hold open the door for the person in front of or behind you. Pick up litter on your path. Smile at someone passing you in the aisle. There are so many small ways we can do big things.

One of my favorite non-profits is Random Acts. They excel at simplicity and creating big things out of small gestures. Check them out at the link and follow St. David’s advice: Do the little things.