The saints. Why do they matter so much? Why are they so precious to me? Why do their lives inspire me so much? Why are these dead people some of my dearest, most trustworthy friends, always available for me to call on them for help?
“The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by tremendous yearning." -- St. Bernard of Clairvaux (11th-12th centuries, Doctor of the Church)
About 25 years ago, I sat in front of the desk of our parish secretary. She had a little upright spiral desk calendar which had a page for each day of the year, and on each page was a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was still alive at the time. The secretary had to leave the room for a few minutes and the quote that was on the calendar page facing me was so compelling and beautiful, it nearly took my breath away. The Lord was speaking clearly to me through that quote, and it was as if a light bulb had turned on in my understanding of spiritual things. After the secretary returned, I wrote that particular quote down, because it was too beautiful to ignore, and I didn’t know when I would ever see it again. I borrowed that calendar from her, and spent a weekend typing up the many quotes that I found inspiring, poignant, or enlightening. Some time later, I gave a one-day retreat for women at the parish during Lent, and gave each retreatant a laminated bookmark containing a Mother Teresa quote, which each woman came up before the group and read aloud. We were all very moved.
It was a time of real metanoia for me. I stopped sleepwalking through my relationship with God and His Church. I fell in love with Him. None of this was my doing, of course. It is God Who first woos us and all we have to do is respond when we recognize how completely wretched we are compared to how infinitely good He is. One thing I learned is that to love God is to love His Church. None of that had ever really occurred to me before. Since I had been educated in public schools from kindergarten through college, my formation in the Faith was limited to once a week classes. Of whatever they taught me, very little stuck. Maybe that’s because it was the years of big change from Vatican Council II, not to mention our entire culture. Maybe it’s because I just wasn’t paying attention, which is the most likely reason.
Part of loving God in His Church is getting to know His family.
Over the last 25 or so years, I have become an avid reader of Catholic books, everything from apologetics, to saints’ lives and writings, as well as devotionals. These books were chocked full of what the saints said and wrote, and I found myself highlighting and marking pages like a miner searching for and finding gold. When I considered what I was reading in the context of the lives these people lived, I felt urged to begin collecting and sharing the quotes with my email prayer chain group. By this time, I was doing a 3-year study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church with our parish director of religious education and some other Catechism students. Again, I was so surprised to find the Catechism full of saint quotes, and I gained a deeper appreciation of the importance of what these brave, selfless people had to say. I really began delving into the writings of the “Fathers of the Church '', who I had known little about, and also into Church history, which brought me more riches of quotes. It began to feel like my “my cup was running over” and I just had to share them with more people. In late 2003, I, along with 2 very supportive friends, came up with the idea to “publish” a monthly sheet of quotes. I offered to send people the monthly themes via email, which has been successful beyond my wildest dreams. The support has been very encouraging.
About a year after we began the program, I had received several questions about the saints. Since we frequently hear the names of saints during Mass, either in the Eucharistic prayers, or on someone’s feast day, but very little about the lives they lived, I wanted to add a little “lagniappe” to the Wisdom of the Saints, by profiling the life of a saint for each month. Thus began the “Saint of the Month”. I always choose a saint who has a feast day during the featured month (or a potential feast day, in the case of someone who is not yet canonized). Sometimes when we read about the life of a saint, his or her words become even more compelling, and I really enjoy researching their inspiring lives. There is so much to learn from those who knew Christ better than anyone, and in whose lives it is so easy to see His reflection. It is my hope and prayer that the words of these wonderful people, our brothers and sisters in heaven, will truly help people to desire to be saints themselves, for that is what Jesus wants for us, and gives us the power to do.
By the way, this is the quote that so caught my attention so many years ago, sitting in the office of the parish secretary. These are words I could meditate on for a very long time: