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.

Thursday Travels – Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs

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These grounds are a reliquary to the North American Martyrs, St. Isaac Jogues and his Companions, St. Rene Goupil and St. John LaLande. In 1642, the same year Rene Goupil was martyred, the first known recitation of the Rosary was prayed here. This was also the birthplace ten years later after St. Jogues and St. Lalande’s martyrdoms, of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

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The view of the Mohawk Valley and River from the Shrine Grounds

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Three Crosses bearing the names of the North American Martyrs at the Entrance, at the edge of what was the Mohawk village.

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St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s Shrine

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We’re reminded throughout the year and the Liturgical calendar of many of the saints through their feast days. Recently, we’ve observed Sts. Simon and Jude, the North American Martyrs and Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II.

Today is All Saints’ Day; that day on the calendar that honors all the saints. Although not today, it is often a holy day of obligation where Catholics are expected to attend Mass. I did attend this morning, and since there is no specific saint mentioned it is a good time to remember the saints that are important to us.

The saint I chose for my confirmation name is St. Elen (of Caernarfon). I wrote about her back when I was going through my sacraments.

Last week was my annual fall retreat, and today I get to tell you about one of the unexpected directions I was sent on during that week: the National Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

She was one of the three saints I considered for my confirmation before I was finally led to St. Elen.

I contemplated having St. Kateri because:

  1. She was local,
  2. She was Native American, and
  3. Her name began with a K like mine.

When I read her story what stood out to me was how she was the only Christian among her relatives, and that struck a chord with me during my conversion. I was the only one moved to follow Jesus Christ, and so was the only one talking about Scriptural things. Obviously, I wasn’t trying to convert my family, but that single similarity stayed with me.

At four, Kateri lost her immediate family to a small pox outbreak. She had contracted the virus, and was left scarred by her illness. Upon her death, witnesses say her scars disappeared.

She appeared to three people in the days after her death, and one year later, she appeared again to Father Chauchetière who painted what is considered the oldest portrait of the saint:

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Two of the four National Shrines that honor St. Kateri are in two small nearby villages in upstate New York about a five hour drive south from her burial place in Quebec.

I had heard of Kateri before I became a Catholic, but really only knew that she had been beatified and her place was local. I’ve had a strong connection to Native Americans since I was a child. I think I find myself drawn to cultures other than my own. I had just begun attending Mass when Kateri was canonized in 2012. I received a wallet card from the Shrine as they celebrated her canonization and our whole Diocese celebrated, and I’ve carried that with me since that day in October.

That day in October also held an unrelated significance for me as well: it was the original due date of my middle child, who decided to be two weeks early, lucky for both of us since as it was, the day he was born I was in labor for two days, unbeknownst to me.

I had no intention of traveling to a saint’s shrine on my retreat, but when I glanced at a map and saw how close it was to where I had been on Saturday, I realized that I didn’t have many opportunities to visit something so significant, and since she did have some inspiration for me, I was excited to go once it had been pointed out to me.

It was raining when I got there, so I browsed around the gift shop until it was a light enough mist for me to walk around. The buildings of the shrine close this weekend for the winter (because none of the buildings have heat), so my timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I plan to return when they have one of their events through the spring and summer.

I wandered through the museum first and then upstairs to St. Peter’s Chapel, which is a commemoration to the chapel that Kateri was baptized in. The nearby spring that was used to baptize her (and other converts at that time) still flows. Visitors claim healings and cures after drawing from the holy spring and praying for intercession by St. Kateri.

She lived in the village up the hill for most of her life. It is currently the only completely excavated Iroquois site in the country. Although the area had a history, it hadn’t been a shrine to her until Pope St. John Paul II beatified her in 1980.

The air was cool, the mist was wet and the sky was grey. I hadn’t realized until last week how much that type of weather is my weather. Very often I talk about my trip to Wales; more like pilgrimage, and when something reminds me of Wales, it is much more than the anecdote of a week’s vacation. There are so many non-religious, spiritual things associated with the simple phrase, it reminds me of Wales.

The fact that walking around the wet grass, seeing the bright yet muted oranges and reds against the greens, browns and greys as light played off the puddles was so reminiscent of my Wales that I had to sit and catch my breath. I was also moved to sit for quite a while in the chapel reading James Martin’s second prayer. The spirit was truly with me on this day. It was the perfect reading for the place; a perfect place to meditate on the Gospel, on Fr. Martin’s reflections, and to feel my own.

I walked.

I sat.

I prayed.

I meditated.

It was very consoling; reassuring of all that is right in the world.

It was exceptionally reflective and it gave me the impulse and the space to be reflective.

It reminded me of why I became a Catholic as well as why I became a writer. Both are similar answers even though they don’t come easily to the conscious mind: I can’t be anything else. Neither was anything that I was looking for, but instead they found me. Both are faith driven, both are involuntary, instinctive, and they both need caring to keep them potent.

Let me share the beauty of St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s Shrine with you:

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Water from the Last Three Days

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Mohawk River

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Mohawk River

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Mohawk River

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Looking across the Hudson River from Rensselaer to Albany, NY

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Albany Skyline across the Hudson River

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Hudson River looking south to the Port of Albany

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Looking north up the Hudson River

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Holy Water Font. The water that is in this font comes from the St. Kateri Spring and blessed. This is the same spring that St. Kateri Tekakwitha was baptised in.