Happy All Saints Day everyone!!! Hope you enjoyed your All Hallows Eve (Halloween). Today is one of the few days in the Church calendar which the Church designates as a Holy Day of Obligation. For Catholics, this means one must attend mass and should or should try to treat the day as one treats a Sunday. Today celebrates the Church Triumphant, the members of the Church who reside in heaven. These members of the Church are called saints. Now, this may shock some that I used the word "saint" in the last sentence. Until a few years ago, I would have been surprised too, I had only thought "saint" as the title before people such as Augustine or Theresa of Calcutta. So it rocked my world to find out that to strive to be a saint means to strive for heaven.
Those saints like Augustine or Theresa of Calcutta who do have a capital "S" title before his or her name have gone through a special process called canonization. Through this process the persons will receive the title Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed (after one miracle), and finally, Saint (after two miracles). Once declared Blessed the Church declares a belief that a person worships God in heaven. The holy lives of the Saints cause a response, or should, from people. The Catholic response calls them to give these men and woman a level of worship called dulia. Dulia honors the saints for their practice of holiness. While all saints are given dulia, a special form of dulia is given to Mary called hyperdulia. However, the ways in which this dulia is lived out can seem as if saints are worshipped as God is.
One of the most controversial forms of dulia is prayer to the Saints. A major contention against this practice is that Christ is the mediator between man and God. The word "mediator" is a translation so it is important to ask what the original word is. The word Paul uses in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 is "nomos" which means "one of many mediators". Thus, the saints act as mediators alongside Christ and bring our prayers to him who then presents them to the Father (though perhaps the saints also bring prayers to the Father). Though other contentions exist this one seems to be preeminent, and a bit scrupulous, as it deals with giving God his due. A thought experiment: if God is a father and our lives should glorify him, and parents take pride in well-formed children, would not it glorify God to recognize the heroic virtue of his children. Then would it not glorify God to pray to those of his children which have come to live forever in his presence? And would he not receive the requests of these faithful children who receive requests of children aiming for that level of virtue, with great joy? If your answers to these questions are yes, then ask why. If not, also ask why.
Ok thought experiment over. An important aspect of praying to the saints comes from the church declaring a particular saint a patron of some place, person, or circumstance. A patron may also be chosen by someone such as a parent when a child is born (ah the power of saint names) or when a young man or woman goes through confirmation. These saints intercede before the throne of God for what they are patrons of (perpetually?). Two quick examples. St. Lucy is the patron saint of eye problems. St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of students (unsurprising considering the Summa). Now, the relationships one has with saints may vary some have closer relationships with one more than another. I certainly know I do and subsequently share some saints for which I am quite close (holiness mentors), some I am developing a relationship with, and finally, some I'd like to begin to develop a relationship with. Let's dive in to those men or women whom I have a particular closeness to spiritually.
Disclaimer: I will be giving bios of these saints which will be a mix of my own knowledge and biographies online such as those on Saints and Angels from Catholic.org
Previously I have explored my relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, has God as his father. However, on earth, God the Father did not leave Mary and Jesus without a protector who was husband and father, respectively, to them. Joseph was this man. I have talked about him before when I examined the Christmas story in 2021. Joseph, unfortunately, did not often receive much attention from me growing up. I know my late grandmother believed the family who rented her house was brought to her by Saint Joseph. I don't even think I learned that until years after my grandmother moved in with us.
I guess it was in high school, though it could have been college that this relationship began. I do remember at one point realizing it may be a good idea to consider the Joyful mysteries from Joseph's perspective. Though I would definitely say, he began reaching out to me directly in my freshman year of college. I felt his presence once when in front of the tabernacle in prayer. But I guess, I didn't realize the significance of this occurrence until much later.
I would eventually join Lilies of St. Joseph at Franciscan. This is where my relationship with St. Joseph really began to explode. I actually began praying to St. Joseph for protection or for my future spouse. I began also praying to him under the title of Sleeping St. Joseph at night. The closer I have become to St. Joseph, I have come to call him, Papa Joseph as I call Mary, Mama Mary. I endeavor to find someone who strives to emulate the virtues of St. Joseph. Yet, I also realize through St. Joseph's masculinity I understand my femininity much clearer. He is my spiritual father and I desire to learn so much more about him, other than the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph has no biography per se. Yet, that biography shows more about him in a few passages than most books tell you about this or that historical figure. He is a man of God which then inspires him to be a man of action. He took action when God sent him messages via dreams. A man such as this seems rare today, but with a little help from St. Joseph I believe I can find one. However, I must also emulate what I wish to find which is why I want to allow my femininity to shine by learning true masculinity from St. Joseph. All this and more is why Joseph begins my list of Holiness mentors. Now, on to the next Holiness mentor.
St. Kateri Teckawitha
Typically, if you had a stalker you'd be concerned (and not in a good way), but what if your stalker is a saint? Well, maybe it's a good thing. Many people believe that God brings people into one's life for a reason. If he does that with those that can be physically touched, why would he not do that with those who one should consider spiritually "touching". For me, God plopped Kateri in my life this way.
I did not hear about Kateri until college. Kateri was a Mohawk Indian, born to a chieftain and his wife. Her mother was a Catholic, but her father was not. Her Mohawk name at birth was Ioragode. Her parents died of smallpox and Kateri, who also contracted it, was left scars all over her face and partially blind. Tekawhitha was the name given to her later. She was raised by an uncle, who resented the Catholic influence in the region. Though Kateri increasingly became more interested in the faith, she was prevented from interaction with a friend of her mother's because of the Catholic faith. Her family also attempted to marry her to a boy in the village after Kateri expressed a desire to remain chaste for Christ. Kateri died young, but upon her death her smallpox scars miraculously vanished.
Kateri was the patroness of the first retreat I went on in college. This retreat, called Koinonia was hosted by the Newman Center. I honestly don't remember much from it. I do remember that one of my small group leaders gave a talk on the Blessed Mother. I also remember opening my heart to a girl named Brooke, I don't remember how she responded except that it was the fact that I cried during prayer that prompted the interaction. The next time I would meet Kateri was SEEK 2019. She was the patroness of the conference. While these events, introduced me to Kateri, I did not do much to learn about her until I read a biography about her my junior year. This is where I learned some of the information which I shared in her bio. She truly exudes faithfulness. She is called the Lily of the Mohawks, I would wager to guess because of her witness and commitment to chastity. Beyond her story, which inspires me greatly, her persistent pursuit of me continued at Franciscan, in a way which I did not at all expect.
As mentioned in the previous example of a Holiness mentor, I am a sister of the Lilies of St. Joseph. While I have no doubt St. Joseph had a hand in my ultimate joining of a household dedicated to him, it wasn't that particular point which lead me to choose Lilies. I believe it was, maybe, the second time I visited Lilies that on the way out of their common room I noticed a picture of Kateri on a shelf. I was subsequently informed she was one of household saints (besides St. Joseph, of course). This new household suddenly felt like I may very well be called to it when I saw her picture. She popped one too many times in to my life in recent years for this be mere coincidence. So in a real way, it was Kateri, and subsequently Lilies' covenant, which lead me to write this reflection on her as a graduated sister of Lilies of St. Joseph. Now Kateri may have come later in my journey as a holiness mentor, but one who has been with me for at least 7 or 8 years is St. Faustina.
Remember how I mentioned confirmation saints. Well, Faustina was mine. I will be honest I chose her becuase she's Polish and I am half Polish (thanks Dad). However, I quickly became drawn to learning more about her. In a way though she'd always been around as my late grandmother had a great devotion to the Divine Mercy which was championed by Faustina.
St. Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in 1905. She would feel a call to the convent. However, when she was rejected she became worldly. Christ would still pursue her and she ultimately joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. From 1931-1938 she had visions of Jesus which highlighted his Divine Mercy. These visions were documented in her diary. She would die in 1938 before the fruit of her labors for the Divine Mercy were realized.
I would read her diary or begin to read it my junior or senior year of high school. Unfortunately, I would leave it at my Aunt's house. Therefore, I did not finish it until 2021. It was an immense gift to my life. I realized so much about the Divine Mercy I hadn't previously known. Maybe someday I will read it again.
For a while to cultivate a relationship with Faustina I would address my diary entries to her. Of course this was very much me just unloading on a saint. Though I definitely see how it did make me closer to her. I also occasionally pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and often do the Divine Mercy Novena. Also I have several images of it. I chose my holy hour time in the Port for 3 semesters because of a desire to be in Adoration at 3pm (the Hour of Mercy). So Faustina and her devotion have had a great affect on my spiritual growth and life. I may be quite close with her, but there alre some saints I am still trying to grow closer with.
St. Anthony of Padua
St. Anthony was born in Portugal. From a young age he felt a call to be a priest. He was first an Augustinian, but upon interaction with the Franciscans he left the Augustinians and became a Franciscan. He would eventually lead this order, given its name from its founder, St. Francis of Assisi. He would die in Vircella
Now, I will admit something, my relationship with St. Anthony really focuses on my need to find things. He is the patron of lost items after all. However, I probably could grow in my relationship more with Saint Anthony. I could learn more about him and his life. I want to go beyond just asking him to help me find this or that item. Perhaps once this post is published I'll have begun growing in my relationship with him.
Sometimes you don't quite get the message being given to you. Fourteen-year-old me did not receive the message being sent by St. Veronica when I was her in my eighth grade live Stations of the Cross. I was so focused on the fact that I wasn't Mary that I couldn't hear God through Veronica calling me to a deeper relationship.
St. Veronica is a bit obscure. Not at all because she is not known, for by tradition she wiped Jesus' face during the Passion. She is obscure becuase beyond that there is not much of information on her. It is a mystery when it comes to when and where she was born or died. Recently, because of the TV series The Chosen (and Google), I learned there is a tradition of identifying her with the hemorraging woman. This would give some further motivation for her wiping Jesus' face. For this act of kindness, Jesus' face miraculously appeared on the cloth Veronica used to wipe it. This cloth is kept in St. Peter's Basilica.
My relationship with her did take off in college. I would sometime meditate on her experience of wiping Jesus' face while praying the fouth Sorrowful mystery. She also happens to be another one of Lilies' household saints. She certainly embodied the virtue of courage. With all of this I truly want to continue growing in my relationship with her. St. Veronica may have some mystery around her, but my final Holy Acquaintance has a bit more to her story.
Mental health has become a hop topic in recent years. I have had my fair share of mental health battles. It has been these battles that brought Saint Dymphna to my attention. Saint Dymphna is the patron saint of those who struggle with mental illness; she herself did not have any mental health problems, but to an extent her father did.
St. Dymphna was born in Ireland. Her father was pagan and her mother was a Christian. At some point Dymphna's mother died. Her father did search for a new wife; however, it was a struggle to find one. Along the way, her father was encouraged to look at Dymphna as an option. Dymphna refused to marry her father. She even fled the country. However, he followed her and when she continued to refuse, he took a sword and chopped off her head.
My relationship with Dymphna began by praying to her (as all of saint relationships do). I would pray to her when I would be particularly struggling with mental health. Recently, I did the St. Dymphna novena. Well, at least I tried to pray it. It made me desire to try again next year. I also had a St. Dymphna medal on my Rugged Rosaries rosary (which is unfortunately broken). However, I want to grow this relationship so much more. While I can't specifically say how I will do this, I know where the desire, which is good for your spiritual growth, the Holy Spirit may fulfill it. St. Dymphna may be a holy acquaintance, but there are a few saints which I want to begin a relationship with.
Holy Wannabe My Friend
One group of saints which intrigue me is the early Christian martyrs. One Christian martyr which greatly interests me in St. Perpetua. She is one of those saints who is never parted from another saint, St. Felicity. Perhaps this is because they had a further connection than both being martyrs. What is this connection? Guess it's time for St. Perpetua's bio.
St. Perpetua was a noblewoman in Rome during one of the many persecutions in the Early Church. She chose to convert to Christianity despite the knowledge that it would mean death. She was imprisoned with her handmaid Felicity. St. Perpetua had an infant son when she got arrested for practicing Christianity. He was given up before she was martyred. Because an attempt to kill St. Pertpetua with animals did not work, she was beheaded.
I want to develop a relationship with her because of her great courage and her resilience of never sacrificing who she was to please others. I have a tendency to desire to please people and it often can mean sacrificing who I truly am so St. Perpetua's unwavering commitment to authentic self expression is something I want to cultivate.
Ven. Augustus Tolton
Wait...isn't this post about saints? Yes, however, I made an exception for Augustus Tolton. He is a great example of holiness amidst adversity. Ven. Augustus Tolton was born a slave. His parents fled Missouri during the Civil War, and his father fought in the Union Army. Tolton's family settled in a very Catholic community in Illinois. Eventually, Tolton felt a call to the priesthood. However, he was rejected by every American Seminary and was formed at one of the Pontifical universities in Rome. He would return to Illinois as a priest first serving in his hometown of Quincy then in Chicago. He would die at the age of 43.
Ven. Augustus Tolton show me the power of perseverance. The racial prejudice of America during the Civil War Era did not prevent Tolton from becoming a priest. I want to develop a relationship with this Venerable or at least learn more about him so I can more fully understand the brokenness within the Church. Tolton's story makes me confront hard truths that Catholics did own slaves and even the American church fell for the prejudice of the times, despite it being contrary to its teaching. Just as Tolton experienced prejudice and St. Perpetua martyrdom, the final saint I wish to cultivate a relationship with dealt with fallenness of those whether inside or outside the church.
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang
For the final Saint of this post, I will go back across the ocean; however, this time it's quicker to travel via the Pacific rather than the Atlantic. China is a country where I greatly admire its Catholic population. More specifically, I admire the underground Catholic population for its faithfulness to Christ even when Communism tries to snuff out its light. However, this post does not deal with the modern situation in China nor the Church militant, but the Church Triumphant. One of the Chinese saints I admire most is St. Mark Ji Tianxiang.
St. Mark Ji Tianxiang lived at the same time as Ven. Augustus Tolton. He was a respected physician. However, for a medical reason he began to take opium. He became dependent on this substance. While he tried to fight the addiction to it, he was unable to conquer it. Unfortunately, his inability to conquer this vice despite a desire to do so, led a confessor to tell him not to receive communion, nor come back to confession, until he intended to mend his ways (he frequently confessed his opium habit). He, being a faithful Catholic, obeyed the priest, but realizing with out the Eucharist it may be difficult to attain heaven, he prayed he would become a martyr. HIs humble prayer was answered as he and his family were martyred in the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the 20th Century.
For me, I believe a relationship with St. Mark Ji Tianxiang would teach me how to humbly carry my cross. I often have a habit about complaining about my cross(es). But it would also help me realize the validity of my suffering and its value. It could also help me appreciate the Eucharist more and reframe my perspective on 2020 when the Eucharist was unaccessible. I can draw so many other possibilities with a relationship with him, but I think these cover the primary ones. I hope to soon move him, Tolton, and Perpetua to my holy acquaintance category, but that is really up to my willingness to follow the Holy Spirit, as I believe he guides me to saints which I need to be close to.
I have loved spending this time opening a door for you into my relationship with the saints. There are many other saints which could appear in this post. But if I included every possible saint I could think of for each category, the writing would never end. I hope perhaps you met a saint for the first time in these paragraphs or maybe you discovered something new about a saint you already heard of. I hope through my reflections you were able to see that holiness comes in a unique way for each and every son or daughter of God. Your path to holiness and my path to holiness will not mirror any other person's perfectly. However, examples of holiness to emulate can certainly inspire you and I to keep striving for it even during our hardest moments. On this All Saints day, I would encourage you to consider who your Holiness mentors, Holy Acquaintances, and Holy Wannabes are. Happy All Saints, and keep fighting the battles for holiness.