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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Saints Are People, Too

I am writing this on the Feast of St. Francis de Sales.  Now, I don’t consider myself a particularly religious person, exactly.  Except for St. Anthony, I don’t really look to saints for any real-time intervention in my daily life.  Yet, as I have grown older, I have come to appreciate the panoply of saints that accompany my religious tradition.
            For instance, I have St. Francis de Sales to thank, in part, for my return to Cape May.  As I struggled with career issues, something he wrote helped me change direction.  The following quote during a service at my church was just what I needed:

        “Don’t sow your desires in someone else’s garden,
                                 Just cultivate your own as best you can.
                                 Don’t long to be other than what you are,
                                 But desire to be thoroughly what you are.
                                 Direct your thoughts to being very good at that…”

                                 Francis de Sales, Finding God Wherever You Are, Joseph F. Powers, Ed.

            Although my religious training brought saints into my life at an early age (what little Catholic girl didn’t want to be Joan of Arc, despite her demise?), I think my curiosity about the lives of the saints really took root in the Eighties.  Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia native, had just become “Blessed Katharine Drexel.”  She wasn’t a saint just yet, but the city was abuzz with the possibility, something akin to the world championship of Catholicism.  For me, a businesswoman in the days of power lunches, dressing for success, and little bow ties, the idea that I could walk the same streets as a potential saint and even go to the same church as totally awesome.

            If you don’t know, St. Katharine Drexel was no shrinking violet.  If you want to learn more about her, there is a great little book, Katharine Drexel: A Biography written by Sister Consuela Marie Duffy, S.B.S..  I have lent my copy so many times, I’ve forgotten who has it now.  My favorite vignette occurs early in Katharine’s spiritual journey.  When she sought counsel from her confessor as to her vocation, the priest promptly tried to talk her out of it.  His rationale?  Katharine – and her massive Drexel fortune – would better serve the church if she married within her stature and her means.  Like many other famous and infamous women I admire, Katharine did not follow such counsel but rather took her inheritance and created her own order of women religious.  She spent a lot of that fortune creating schools for black and Indian children throughout the South and West.
            I admit, I gravitate toward the women saints.  I had the amazing good fortune to meet, albeit for an instant, Mother Teresa, in Norristown when she dedicated a house for the Missionaries of Charity. A wisp of a woman, in her white and blue veil, Mother Teresa at that moment gave no inkling as to the quick mind behind her humble stature.  Or her sense of humor.  My favorite quote of hers is on a plaque hanging in my office:

                              “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. 
                               I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”

That plaque led me to a little book, Mother Teresa: In My Own Words.  Rather cool to read the wisdom and occasional wit of a person I actually met, one who might make the Big Time.
             So, you know how it is.  Mother Teresa led to St. Therese of Lisieux (the “Little Flower”) and Story of a Soul.  That is St. Therese’s autobiography, written
at the request of her sisters. Reading her struggle with, and eventual embrace of, her calling reminded me that being a saint does not begin with a free pass to holiness.  In fact, a saint’s life is as challenging, mundane, frustrating, and exhilarating as any life. 
            Today, thanks to Wikipedia and the internet, I can get quick glimpses into the lives of saints who pique my curiosity.  Such as St. Monica and her frustration with her wayward, wild son (confirming that all mothers are candidates for sainthood), the son who eventually became St. Augustine.  And St. Francis of Assisi, always a favorite of mine because of his love of animals, currently enjoying a resurgence of popularity (even among the Sikhs…see the January 20, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, p. 22) as the result of the new Pope.
            Where I once thought saints were as out of reach as statues by the altar, today, I’ve come to realize that saints are people, too.
            By the way, do you know how St. Anthony got his job of helping people find lost items?  Apparently, his special skill at finding things and people relates to an incident in which he was invoked to find a missing book and the book was found.  Ever since, Saint Anthony has been the patron of lost things (and even lost souls).
            As for St. Francis de Sales, did I mention he is the patron of writers and journalists?  Go figure…


  1. Mary,

    I guess the Church knew that people would need heroes and role models beyond Christ to keep believing, and saints tell the story of how to live.

    My mom has a saint story to tell. She was the 10th child, and my grandmother was stuck on what to name her, so she opened the book of saints to see whose feast day was August 12, and mom became "Clare." Thankfully, it wasn't the feast of St. Dymphna that day.

    1. There's another whole blog do we get our names? Thank goodness your mom fared so well!

  2. Great story Mary!! You are a very good writer!! I can see that St. Francis de Sales is with you, encouraging you on and smiling and acknowledging your writing skills and abilities. :-)


    1. Thanks, Lorraine! I'll try to keep in touch with St. Francis de Sales and keep writing.

  3. Mary, I love being reminded that saints are/were ordinary people. Learning about them as a catholic child, they seemed more like fictional characters.
    And, didn't know St. Francis de Sales is our patron. So, it's St. Chris when I can't find my pencils and St. Francis when I misplace my muse :)

    1. Who says writing has to be a solitary art? We can have all the company we need.