Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 4, 2018.
The great Italian saint Philip Neri once said,
“We are not saints yet, but we, too, should beware. Uprightness and virtue do have their rewards, in self-respect and in respect from others, and it is easy to find ourselves aiming for the result rather than the cause. Let us aim for joy, rather than respectability. Let us make fools of ourselves from time to time, and thus see ourselves, for a moment, as the all-wise God sees us.”
How easy it is for us to perform acts of charity in hopes of the reward? I struggled with this temptation recently– instead of serving others out of love of God and neighbor, I oftentimes think of the long-term benefits I may receive—the favor may be returned, customers act nicer towards me, work is lessened in the time-run, etc. Seeking the results, the cause [as Philip Neri put it] leads to joylessness.
I started this blog bring joy into my life and into my readers lives as well. Pursuing my daily feed, I came across a post about the patron saint of joy—Philip Neri. His name and patronage stuck with me throughout the workday. “I need to learn more about this saint of joy!” I thought to myself driving back home from work.
As soon as my wife went to bed, I google searched Philip Neri and discovered the along with being the patron saint of joy he is an advocate for humor and, interestingly enough, U.S. Special Forces!
I’ll be incorporating more quotes, writings, and wisdom from St. Philip Neri over the rest of the year. I am excited for this journey to deepen my relationship with God through the witness of Philip Neri this year.
I will close with a prayer to incorporate into my spiritual arsenal (and I hope you do too!):
Prayer to Saint Philip Neri
Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)
O holy St. Philip Neri, patron saint of joy, you who trusted Scripture’s promise that the Lord is always at hand and that we need not have anxiety about anything, in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows and lift the burdens from our hearts. We come to you as one whose heart swells with abundant love for God and all creation. Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request here). Keep us safe through your loving intercession, and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St. Philip, transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.
January 3rd celebrates two important events: the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and the anniversary of the birth of J.R.R. Tolkien. As a Catholic obvious the former has to take precedence, I mean Jesus is the center of the Catholic faith. However, I think it is ironic, maybe even providential, of the placement of the great English literary figure’s birthday within the season of Christmastide.
Creation Leads to the Creator
The famed creator of Middle Earth himself was a devout Catholic and belief in Jesus Christ permeated his entire life. I admire Tolkien because of his creativity, devotion, and ability to invoke joy into my life simply by reading his works or striking up a conversation with a random stranger about his life!
According to the Baltimore Catechism paragraph 215, Catholics honor saints because
“We honor the saints in heaven because they practiced great virtue when they were on earth, and because in honoring those who are the chosen friends of God we honor God Himself.”
The excitement, peace, and joy I receive when reading, researching, or talking about Middle Earth ultimately is aimed at a higher reality. A deeper reality of full communion with God in Heaven! Tolkien once wrote, “After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’.”
All of creation act as signposts pointing to God’s existence.
The same is true for the hidden or not so hidden Easter-eggs contained in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The date of the formation of the Fellowship—that is, the group of representatives of Middle Earth races—actually is December 25th!
The Little Way of the Hobbit
Much of Tolkien’s theology, whether he would have wanted to admit it or not, reminds me of the spirituality of The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux. Her path towards holiness consisted of relying on God’s mercy and forgiveness while seeking ordinary daily actions to show love of God and neighbor.
The French saint wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” Whenever I read and reflect upon that quote I am also reminded of the following words of Tolkien, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
Fantasy and Tolkien geeks now well that the bearer of the One Ring [the embodiment of temptation] was a hobbit. If only one word would suffice to describe a hobbit to individuals not too aware of this fictional Middle Earth race it would be diminutive. Littleness, at least in appearance, is the chief trait of the heroes of The Lord of the Rings.
Even the smallest person can impact the future
Like St. Therese of Lisieux, Tolkien recognizes that the smallest person can have a great impact on human history. The greatest event in human history is the Incarnation—God being man in the person of Jesus Christ in the form of a little baby.
I honor J.R.R. Tolkien today because his “complex”, extensive, and intricate sub-creation of Middle Earth provokes a sense of joy in the little acts done in great love and sacrifice. Ultimately, after reading any of his works, I am reminded to be grateful for creative genius not as a worship of the fantasy author. Instead, I honor him as he points me to the Real and Truth Author of All of Reality!
“At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” –Philippians 2:10-11
The Sacred Scriptures contain truth and wisdom from God. These truths are eternal and ever relevant— and practical. When you live in accordance with the Word of God everything in your life is ordered. This doesn’t mean you will be free of struggles and suffering. However, you will experience an otherworldly joy and peace more often than when you don’t follow the Word of God.
One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Letter of Saint James. Despite being a short epistle (five chapters) it’s rich in wisdom and practical advice. Chapter 3 is especially relevant for my battle against sin. Saint James details out the importance of how your words can guide your spiritual life. The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is false. Words matter. How you phrase something helps or hurts people. The Apostle gives a few tangible examples in chapter three of his epistle showing how speech helps or hinders the spiritual life.
Bridle the Tongue
How many times this past week have you said something you regretted? Emotions get high in stressful situations. This year (it still feels like 2020 right?) has tossed enough curveballs at us to last ten lifetimes. Pandemic. Social unrest. Inflation. And other unimaginable situations hit you. Even something simple as workplace conflict with a coworker can set your tongue shooting verbal fireworks.
Saint James writes, “If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also (James 3:2). The word bridle refers to headgear placed on a horse (including reins and a mouth-bit) to help restrain the animal from running too fast—knocking a rider off. It helps allow the rider to communicate with the horse. Synonyms include check, curb, tame, rule, or govern. The saint tells his readers the perfect man can govern his whole body when he keeps his words in check.
Words are manifestations of thoughts. In my life, I tend to lash out verbally at my family or at work when I internalize negative thoughts. Short-staffing issues at work has drained everyone in my workplace. Add increased demands and it is a potential emotional powder keg. How am I going to control my negative feelings amid a stressful situation? How can you prevent your tongue from steering you off the path of holiness?
Rudder of the Mouth
Saint James calls the tongue rudder of the mouth. Boats were a common mode of travel in ancient times. The rudder is the part of a ship that steers—gives direction for the boat’s journey. So too, your words can guide how your daily travels with go. During the stressful storms (of a Monday or frantic weekend shift) how do you react? How do you show your frustrations?
While words (thoughts externalized) steer your attitude and have a big impact on your day don’t lose hope if you begin the day “sailing” away from your destination. The Holy Spirit is always present to help redirect you on the holy path. If you’ve ever sailed on a boat, you know how the impact airstreams are and how you need to adjust your sails. God sometimes allows you to suffer setbacks for you to realize you aren’t always in control. You need help. Asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak—it’s a strength and sign of humility.
Words are Fire (of Love or Hate)
The third image Saint James compares the tongue to is fire. Fire is often associated with being a destructive force. I remember teachers and my parents cautioning me against playing with flames. Stop. Drop. And roll. “Only you can prevent forest fires.” These words are imprinted into my memory forever. I stayed away from fire out of love and obedience to my teachers and parents. Saint James writes, “The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna (James 3:6). Words have the power to set tempers ablaze. You don’t have to search far on the Internet to know how true this is.
But there’s another aspect of fire you might not immediately realize—healing. The Catholic Church’s doctrine of purgatory compares the process of being purged from impurities as painful. Saint John Vianney wrote, “The fire of Purgatory is the same fire as the fire of Hell; the difference between them is that the fire of Purgatory is not everlasting.” What a thought-provoking quote! To tie-up this point (before I fall into a theological rabbit-hole), fire is in one sense destructive, but in another a means to purify. God’s love is all-encompassing and fervent it sometimes it feels painful.
From Apostle to Doctor of the Church (A Brief Aside)
Saint Catherine of Siena often referred to the Holy Trinity’s love as a fire. Writing to Brother Matteo di Francesco Tolomei of the Order of the Preachers, Catherine offers words of encouragement that hope is founded in the love of God, “kindled by the fire of divine charity.” In another letter, to religious sisters, she longed for the passing of their suffering in saying,
Dearest mother and daughter in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you so clothed in the flames of divine charity that you may bear all pain and torment, hunger and thirst, persecution and injury, derision, outrage and insult, and everything else, with true patience; learning from the Lamb suffering and slain, who ran with such burning love to the shameful death of the Cross (emphasis mine).
Going back to Saint James’ letter, the apostle wanted to remind his fellow Christians how important words can harm or help in the spiritual life. Amid stressful situations you may have to bridle your tongue against harsh language. The mouth is a rudder of the body and sins like gossip, anger, calumny, and lying can steer you off course. Finally, his imagery of the tongue being akin to a fire ablaze in a forest teaches how words can build up (or tear down) your relationship with God and others.
Being Catholic has many joys, but one aspect I truly cherish about my faith is the vast community of Catholics worldwide. Millions of people from all walks of life have followed the path of Jesus and embraced his teachings. As a mere mortal, trying to live up to the standards Christ exemplified can be challenging, but thankfully, we have a source of inspiration to keep us striving – the lives of the Saints.
How Does a Person Become a Saint?
Contrary to popular belief, a Saint isn’t a perfect person who has lived their life without sin. Here are the basic requirements:
Extensive evidence of the person living in such a spirit-filled way that they are worthy of imitation based on their virtue and goodness,
Having died a martyr or as a hero for their Catholic faith
Casting aside an immoral life for one of exemplary holiness
In addition, for canonization to Sainthood, two verifiable postmortem miracles are required. A person may be beatified or given the “Blessed” designation with only one demonstrated miracle.
After several phases of a comprehensive examination of the person’s life and legacy, the Pope ultimately chooses those who are to be formally declared as Saints.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Saint?
The process for being declared a Saint is a lengthy one. Typically, the canonization process cannot start until five years after the person’s death. Throughout the many phases of canonization, witnesses offer evidence that the person lived a holy life and conformed to church doctrine.
While many people have lived exemplary lives or died under heroic conditions for their Catholic faith, identifying and certifying a bona fide miracle can be challenging. However, Pope John Paul II streamlined the path to Sainthood. Now, miracles “only” require empirical evidence that a phenomenon took place (such as miraculous healing) that lies outside of scientific explanation.
Drawing Strength and Inspiration from Catholic Saints
Learning about the Saints can help us when we struggle with our faith because all of them started as ordinary people. However, by living their beliefs, they turned ordinary lives into extraordinary ones. While there are more than 10,000 Saints formally recognized by the Catholic Church, here are a few of the well-known ones you may wish to turn to for guidance and support in your everyday life.
Pope Francis has called 2021 “The Year of St. Joseph,” and as the father of Jesus, he can teach us a great deal about humility, love, and trust in our marriages and family life. It is through Joseph’s selfless actions that Mary brought the Son of God into this world.
Saint Francis of Assisi
St. Francis is best known for his love of animals and the environment, but his compassion also included the poor, disabled, and sick. He preached that all living creatures are children of God and worthy in his eyes.
Saint Martin de Porres
Martin de Porres’ parents were a Spanish nobleman and an African or indigenous woman. As a young man, he suffered social rejection due to his mixed-race ancestry and was refused entry to the Dominican order. However, he remained true to his faith and cared for those on the margins of society while promoting peace and forgiveness. He is now known as the first Black Saint of the Americas.
Icon portraying Mary as Theotokos
The Blessed Mother Mary
As the mother of Jesus and the Catholic Church, Mary provides an excellent example of virtue and faith in God. Mary offers comfort in times of trouble, an attentive ear for discernment questions, and a loving gaze when joy and happiness abounds.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
St. Thérèse of Lisieux is a very popular Catholic Saint loved and prayed to by people from many walks of life and faiths. St. Thérèse offers us her “Little Way” of finding holiness throughout the common moments of everyday life. For those struggling to find God, her words and teachings offer a path to connection and joy.
Saint Joan of Arc
In popular culture, Joan of Arc is known as a hero and a martyr for her role in the Hundred Years War in the early 1400s. While much of her story today includes both facts and legend, her courage and love for her faith cannot be denied. Her connection with God has inspired many over the centuries. Whenever courage is needed, whisper her words: “I am not afraid, for God is with me. I was born to do this.” You’ll feel strengthened and transformed!
Embody the Saints’ Teachings in Your Life
So, the next time you’re struggling with a task at work, feeling frustrated with family life, or wondering how to deepen your connection to God and your faith, turn to the Saints for advice and guidance. Their stories for turning an ordinary life into a spirit-filled extraordinary one are always there for you!
About our guest blogger
Katie Tejada is a writer, editor, and former HR professional. She works with a variety of Catholic businesses and often covers developments in decor, interiors, and events. She also enjoys writing about parenthood and faith.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on March 31, 2017.
A few years ago, I started volunteering as a mentor to an elementary student at a local Catholic school. I was nervous at first because this was the first time I served as a mentor to a young student. On that first day, the school counselor thought it would be nice for the student to give me a tour of the school. On this tour, I was making small-talk and the topic eventually led to saints [Icons of saints are present at every classroom door].
I posed this simple question to the student, “Who is your favorite saint?” The reason I received from him was simple but also tightly packed with theology! The student quickly responded with a sheepish grin, “Fr. John is my favorite saint!” Though I was half-tempted to qualify his statement by saying, “Well, I meant technically a canonized saint…” I stopped myself. Since that day I have pondered this revelatory statement at least once a week.
The more I reflected on my mentor student’s statement the more and more theology I realized was packed into it. Here are a few truths I gleaned from his statement:
Holiness can start now
Sanctity is not reserved for after our death or even later in our earthly lives. To reference my recent post on purgatory, I used to believe purgatory was a “period” similar to an extra period in a sports game. Yet, my student’s reply is simple and true, our priest is like a saint to him because he knows holiness when he sees it.
Priest, like saints, reflect God’s light
The moon, which reflects the sun’s light, is a common image the early Church Fathers used to describe Mary, who reflects the son’s light. Similarly, we are called to be that same reflection. Christ even goes further when he calls his followers in Matthew 5:14-16 to be the “light of the world”. Perhaps the best truth that came forth from my student’s statement is summed up best when placing it next to St. Athanasius’ famous quote from On the Incarnation. He says, “God became man that man might become God”. I truly believe our parish priest is on that same path.
My parish is doing something right
I should qualify this by saying our parish is doing something right by allowing God’s grace to work in the people I have encountered there. My student’s proclamation, “Fr. John is my favorite saint!” is certainly a testament to our priest’s strong faith and reverence for the sacrament of Holy Orders. But I am sure he will agree with me in saying there is another source at work besides himself. It is the work of the Trinity.Not only at work in my student’s heart, but God is working through the dedicated teachers, administrative staff, and parishioners alike.
Many people tell me I am having a positive impact on that elementary student’s life each week I meet with him over lunch. What I do know for certain is that I get more graces than I give in mentoring. This “living theology” is something I never experienced during my graduate studies. I thank God every day for the joy He gives me each week in serving Him.