A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

In the past few days, I’ve spotted some brave chipmunks dashing across a busy street with farm fields on one side and forest on the other, both sides offering good cover and food sources.

This morning, as I took my dog to the groomer, one such chipmunk paused in the middle of the road, as if trying to decide which way to run. Fortunately, it dashed to the other side a few car lengths before I reached it.

Sometimes we’re like that chipmunk. We freeze, unable to decide between two good alternatives:

  • Stay in a job we enjoy or leave for a position that offers new challenges?
  • Continue on our career path or return to school for retraining?
  • Stay in the neighbourhood we love or downsize and move closer to work?
  • Keep working in a ministry group or move on to something new?

Even after weighing the pros and cons or asking family and friends for advice, we may feel torn and ask ourselves where to go from there.

In her autobiography, The Story of the Springtime of a Little White Flower, St. Thérèse had this to say about choosing which way to go:

As Our Lord is now in Heaven, I can only follow Him by the footprints He has left—footprints full of life, full of fragrance. I have only to open the Holy Gospels and at once I breathe the perfume of Jesus, and then I know which way to run….

We need to go beyond making lists and asking others’ opinions to look at our decision through the lens of faith. Here are some things we could do:

  • Book a counselling appointment with our parish priest or spiritual director to talk through our concerns.
  • Pray a novena to our patron saint and ask him or her to intercede, or pray the rosary with the intention of seeking guidance in making a decision.
  • Light a votive candle for our prayer intention before or after Mass.
  • Ask the members of our parish’s prayer circle to pray for us.
  • Spend time reading the scriptures and let God speak to us through the Bible.
  • Seek direction in making the right decision through Christian meditation.

Whatever decisions lie ahead of us, I pray that we would turn to our faith in making our choices.

Who is the man that fears the LORD?

Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.

~ Psalm 25:12*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

IMG_1029Maybe it’s because I was an air force brat with no hometown. Maybe it’s because my extended family hasn’t always been close. Or maybe it’s because, like so many North Americans, I’m the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants. In any case, I’ve always enjoyed researching my family tree.

More than just names and dates, I like to learn about the family: which relatives parents named their children after, what everyone did for a living, where they migrated (or emigrated). I’m saddened when I see how many children never reached adulthood or how young my female ancestors were when widowed but happy to discover stories of relatives who succeeded in building new lives for themselves—and I’m always eager to learn more. Because this is my story and my son’s, too.

I wonder whether we Catholics are curious about our spiritual family tree.

On Sunday, we heard Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

~ John 15:5*

We know that God is at the root of our spiritual family tree, which continues to grow because it is nourished by his love. But what do we know about the other branches of the tree?

I’m not talking only about our relatives who are or were people of faith. I mean our family tree in a broader sense—our brothers and sisters in the faith, including these:

  • our spiritual ancestors in the Bible
  • the saints, blesseds and martyrs of the Church
  • the fathers and doctors of the Church
  • those who have led the Church, from St. Peter to Pope Francis

How much do we know about them? And what could their faith journeys teach us?

Yes, we have the list of Adam’s descendants in Genesis 5, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, the examples of the faithful in Hebrews 11. But in actually reading the scriptures we learn how they came to and lived out their faith. In reading the works of St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and more, we learn how they grew in faith. Through books such as Pope Benedict’s collected catecheses on the fathers and doctors of the Church, we learn more about how these men and women helped the Church to grow. By searching in books such as Voices of the Saints or on websites such as CatholicSaints.info, we learn about how the faith of the saints and blesseds was tested and bore fruit. And through the website for the Holy See, we can learn about the lives and the writings of the popes and the ways the Holy Fathers affected the Church.

I pray that we would take the time to learn more about our spiritual family tree—our story as Catholics.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us….

~ Hebrews 12:1

(*Scripture quotes and references taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

~ Matthew 7:7-8*

A number of years ago, I went on a women’s retreat. In our small group sessions, we were supposed to pray for others. Out loud.

I serve as a lector at church, and I’m happy to read from a prepared text, but the thought of praying aloud almost gives me hives.

I have no doubt that I’m not alone in this. While I know people who have the gift of leading others in prayer—their impromptu prayers are so thoughtful that they seem to come straight from the pages of a devotional—I believe they’re the exception.

Even if praying aloud isn’t one of our talents, we still need to spend time in prayer. If we think prayer has to be as formal as the prayers during Mass or something we know by heart, such as the grace we say before meals, struggling to pray is only natural. But we can draw encouragement from these words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, written in her autobiography, The Story of the Springtime of a Little White Flower:

With me prayer is an uplifting of the heart; a glance towards heaven; a cry of gratitude and love, uttered equally in sorrow and in joy. In a word, it is something noble, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites it to God.

Praising God for the beautiful sunshine and morning birdsong, thanking him for our safe arrival at our destination, asking him to comfort someone who’s lost a loved one or heal the person in a passing ambulance: these prayers need only come from the heart. And if the prayers we read from a devotional convey what we’re feeling, we should feel comfortable using them as well, just as we would the prayers of the rosary or the Our Father.

We can take comfort in knowing that even saints sometimes struggle with prayer. St. Thérèse wrote this of her challenges:

Sometimes when I am in such a state of spiritual dryness that not a single good thought occurs to me, I say very slowly the “Our Father,” or the “Hail Mary,” and these prayers suffice to take me out of myself, and wonderfully refresh me.

And for those not used to praying or who are experiencing “spiritual dryness” such as St. Thérèse described, here’s a simple prayer a parish priest shared with me: “Jesus, fill me with your love.”

Whether we pray aloud or silently, in our own words or using a devotional, alone or with others, I pray that we would spend time with God in prayer to share our joys, sorrows and concerns and to know better his plans for us.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

To the best of my knowledge, I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, so as a child, I looked forward to St. Patrick’s Day for the Shamrock Shakes. Until I was an adult, I never heard about the legend that St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland—or, more importantly, about his work to establish the church in Ireland.

And so I wonder how many of the saints and blesseds we know only by name and not for their good works or the sacrifices they made for their faith—think St. Patrick, St. Nicholas, St. Christopher and St. Valentine, to name just a few—and how many we know nothing about.

The Catechism tells us that the Church “is the place where we know the Holy Spirit (…) in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation” (s. 688). That the saints “share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings and their prayer today” and that we “can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world” (s. 2683).

The media have made us more aware of the life and work of blesseds and saints such as Bl. Teresa of Calcutta and St. André Bessette, as well as of beatifications and canonizations, such as the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014. But what do we know about the saints and blesseds who lived before the 19th and 20th centuries?

We all need positive role models in the faith, especially if our circle of family, friends and acquaintances doesn’t include many believers. Learning about the efforts of saints and blesseds to hold onto their faith and reading the writings and prayers they have left for us can encourage us in our own faith journey.

When the youth in my son’s confirmation class were asked to choose the name of a saint as their confirmation name, many of them, through their research, “discovered” saints who could serve as role models for them and intercede for them. For example, in searching for a patron saint of athletes, my son learned about St. Sebastian, whose biography on Catholic Online points to “his energetic way of spreading and defending the Faith.”

To learn more about the saints, including St. Patrick, visit Catholic Online, which offers biographies of many blesseds and saints on its “Saints & Angels” page, or pick up a copy of Bert Ghezzi’s Voices of the Saints: A 365-Day Journey With Our Spiritual Companions for a look at 365 well-known and lesser-known saints and blesseds.

May we be inspired by the example of the blesseds and saints and ask their prayers for us and for our world.

Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.

~ St. Dominic, quoted in s. 956 of the Catechism

I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth.

~ St. Thérèse of Lisieux, quoted in s. 956 of the Catechism

Sometimes my tongue is too sharp and I resort to sarcasm. And, as a parent, sometimes I’m too quick to nag or lecture. That’s part of the reason I wrote my May 2nd post, “Building Up,” where I quoted Proverbs 18:21*: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

I’m not alone in my struggle to choose my words more carefully, as a look at the prayer in Sirach 22:27 shows: “O that a guard were set over my mouth, and a seal of prudence upon my lips, that it may keep me from falling, so that my tongue may not destroy me!”

But the story of St. Jerome offers us hope.

Long before I became a Catholic, I learned a bit about St. Jerome. While I was studying to become a translator, one of my courses dealt with translation theory and touched on St. Jerome’s Bible translation work. And during my studies, we officially observed the first International Translation Day. It falls on September 30th, the feast day of St. Jerome, who is the patron saint of translators.

To me, the word “saint” suggests someone much holier than the average person. But as Bert Ghezzi wrote in his introduction to Voices of the Saints: A 365-Day Journey With Our Spiritual Companions, “Observing the saints more closely reveals that they were ordinary people just like us.”

St. Jerome’s biography in Voices of the Saints notes that, along with such saints as Brother André Bessette and Thomas Becket, he is listed under the theme of “Feisty Saints.” In fact, “Jerome’s sharp tongue and curmudgeonly disposition made him many enemies. His nastiness and broken relationships marred his reputation.”

Though not known for being “goldenmouthed” like St. John Chrysostom or having the gift of preaching like St. Anthony of Padua, St. Jerome had a role to play in spreading the faith. He spent decades working to produce an accurate Latin Bible, Voices of the Saints tells us, and “His edition of Scripture, called the Vulgate, for fifteen centuries was the benchmark translation of the Bible in the western church.”

Just as God used St. Jerome in Bible translation and revision despite his “feistiness,” so he can use our talents—and draw out talents we didn’t know we had—to accomplish his purposes in spite of our character flaws.

Having flaws makes us human, but it doesn’t make us useless to God. And that should give us hope.

(*Scripture quotes are taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Saints and blesseds serve as role models of the faith for us. Today we remember Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who ministered to the poor and the dying and spoke out for the unborn. But after reading Mother Teresa’s bio in Voices of the Saints: A 365-Day Journey With Our Spiritual Companions, many of us—understandably—would find the prospect of imitating her a daunting one.

Take this description of her early missionary work: “She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950, and in rapid succession opened a home for the dying, a novitiate, a children’s home and a leper’s village.”

It would be easy to look at Mother Teresa’s ministry and tell ourselves that we couldn’t possibly live up to that, so it would be pointless to try.

But the thing to imitate is not her ministry but rather her great faith; as she said herself, “God hasn’t called me to be successful. He’s called me to be faithful” (The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd Edition).

We can also imitate the way she put her love of God into action—which doesn’t have to mean a grand gesture, as she explained:

A mere smile, a short visit, the lighting of a lamp, writing a letter for a blind man, carrying a bucket of charcoal, reading the newspaper for someone—something small, very small—may, in fact, be our love of God in action.

~ Teresa of Calcutta, quoted in Voices of the Saints: A 365-Day Journey With Our Spiritual Companions

Here are a few suggestions of small ways to put our love of God into action:

a woman of faith

My great-grandmother Irene, a woman of faith who shared family stories and used her talents to create homemade gifts

At home

We could keep distant relatives up-to-date on our children’s lives by phone and by e-mail, make time for sit-down family dinners several times a week so we can reconnect, help out other family members by sharing chores on a busy weeknight (something we often do on taekwon-do and music lesson nights), or use our time and talents to make gifts for friends and family (a scrapbook, a family photo album, a music mix on CD, a family tree, etc.).

For someone who struggles with sewing machines, as I do, even hemming your growing teenager’s new jeans can be an act of love. So can making sure he or she gets enough rest and healthy food and not too much screen time—which, as I can vouch, is much harder than it sounds.

In our parish

We could give someone a ride to Mass, bring communion to ill or shut-in parishioners through the pastoral care team, help with the children’s liturgy, assist in running (or even starting) the youth group, or serve on our parish’s pro-life committee to keep people aware of upcoming events or changes to laws.

In our community

We could take wish-list items to the Ottawa Humane Society or an animal rescue such as the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, take part in the Cleaning the Capital campaign, volunteer to collect items from grocery store drop boxes and take them to the food bank, serve as a mentor with the Children’s Aid Society, or help in classrooms through the Ottawa Network for Education’s Ottawa Volunteers in Education (OVIE) program.

I’d love to hear how you (or someone you know) put feet to your faith!

Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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