When I was a child, my family was Presbyterian. I was baptized in the Presbyterian Church in Oxford, Mississippi, by the same minister who had married my parents and who would, many years later, bury them. And there is a lot of good that came from my Presbyterian upbringing. But a love of the saints was not one of them.
Presbyterians don’t do saints. When I was in college, George Herbert’s poem, To All Angels and Saints, expressed my thoughts perfectly. I could admire the saints, but to venerate them, to turn to them in prayer, was to risk idolatry. I couldn’t go there.
And yet it wasn’t many years later that I went there. Reading the Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lerins led me to accept the veneration of the saints.
And as soon as I understood that the saints could be venerated, I began to read their lives in earnest. It was a joy that is hard to explain. It was like a whole world had been opened to me that I had never imagined existed. The saints were people who had loved God and had come to know him as an intimate friend. And by getting to know these saints, I could, through them, know and love God more.
But I didn’t just love them for God’s sake. As I got to know them, I came to love them for themselves. The saints are like this most wonderful extended family. Some of them are staid and formal, some are silly. Some care a great deal about certain issues or certain people are places. Some have broader interests. In this life, some were rich and some were poor, some were important and some were insignificant. Some lived peaceful, quiet lives, and some were wild and fierce. And yet in all of them, in all their infinite variety and beauty, you see God’s love.
A Saint Close at HandTroparion to St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco
Glorious apostle to an age of coldness and unbelief, invested with the grace-filled power of the saints of old, divinely-illumined seer of heavenly mysteries, feeder of orphans, hope of the hopeless, thou didst enkindle on earth the fire of love for Christ upon the dark eve of the day of judgment; pray now that this sacred flame may also rise from our hearts.
Upon the Annunciation and Passion: One of my very favorite poems by John Donne is a reflection on the liturgical calendar.
Silent as a Stone: A Review: Mother Maria of Paris defied the Nazis to save as many Jewish children as she could.