Happy Solemnity of All Saints! In honor of the day, I offer you seven of my most dear saints.
I hope it’s not bad luck to begin this post with a saint who probably didn’t exist.
I took this saint’s name as my confirmation name, partly to honor a grandmother and great-grandmother, partly because I liked the meaning: daughter of the light.
The details of her life come only from a 19th-century vision, though Philomena herself lived at the tail end of the 3rd. The kinds of people who care about how many angels fit on the head of a pin might be the ones who parse archaeological evidence, historical record and miraculous intercession to determine historical veracity, but that’s not necessarily my concern in this case.
Perhaps my devotion is not so much to Philomena as a historical entity, but to the many daughters of light who have lit the way before us. She shows me that devotion to saints can have a surplus of meaning, and that there is often a difference between fact and truth.
Thomas the Apostle
Another saint made dear to me first through family name is Thomas. That the name is borne by my brother (who was named after our grandfather) led me to pay closer attention when “Doubting Thomas” came up every year on the Second Sunday of Easter.
Less often mentioned is his announcement in John chapter 11, when he urges disciples to follow Jesus back to Judea saying “Let us also go to die with him.”
I find Thomas to be more an example of devotion than of doubt. When the disciples tell him who they have seen his response is more “don’t you dare mess around with me” than evidence of lack of faith. The last words we hear from him are those of faith: “My Lord and my God!”
He put a chicken on his head to encourage people to lighten up a bit about their faith. How can you not like that?
A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.
Strong of faith and of will, strong in friendship and leadership – Clare offers a lot to emulate. My mother claims she might have named me Chiara if she knew it was Italian for Clare. I have visited her shrine a few times, always with the intentions of my mother in mind.
I hope that in my imperfect way I can model her gratitude for the gift of existence.
E tu signore, sii benedetto perchè me hai creato….And you, Lord, blessed be for you have created me.
Something about Augustine really appeals to me, though I imagine we might not have gotten along if we’d known each other. He’s strong-willed, opinionated, over-educated and a little smug about it…come to think of it, that sounds like me. It would be no wonder if we irked each other.
His introspection and commitment to holiness are what attract me. His spiritual writing is stunning and his conversion gives hope to anyone striving for goodness.
Catherine of Siena
I liked Catherine of Siena even before I visited Siena and saw her head and pinky on display at San Domenico (when students are grossed out by that my only explanation is “It’s very European.”)
I don’t plan to emulate her extreme ascetic practices any time soon, I admire how she chose her own path – eschewing both marriage and cloistered life – and got in the Pope’s face about moving the papacy back to Rome from Avignon.
When people want to complain about the Church being sexist they say things like “poor girls like Hildegard were shipped off to the convent when they were little!” and I often respond “poor girls like Hildegard didn’t die in childbirth at 17 having their fifth child and instead wrote books and music!”
She might take issue with either party invoking her in that particular argument (and as an aside, neither quip tells the whole story of medieval subjugation of women, in or out of the Church). Yet I have a hard time imagining a life as fruitful as hers outside of the paradoxical freedom she found in cloistered life.
Hildegard was a prolific author and composer. She described human spirituality and female sexuality, she ran a convent and was a sought-after advisor.
(Incidentally, the first time my sweetheart saw me sing was a week after we met on the train, when I sang a performance of Hildegard’s Ordo Virtutum at a university near him. Even though I told him it might be the weirdest thing he ever experienced, he took a chance on it anyway, and was rewarded with blueberry pie at the afterparty).
You’ll notice I limited my reflection to those named Saints by the Catholic Church. I have many other spiritual heroes not listed in the canon of Saints: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and Thea Bowman, and John XXIII to name a few.
More importantly, I have my personal saints: the family who loved me into who I am today, the friends who lift me up even when I resist their care, the communities of faith and fellowship who inspire and teach me. I leave you with a few of them:
Who are your saints?
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