5 Reasons Why Praying to the Saints is Not like Magic

The teaching about the Communion of Saints is oftentimes a stumbling block for non-Catholics and even new Catholic converts in learning about the faith. I know my wife had a few questions about this when she initially converted almost a decade ago. Although I am a cradle Catholic, I try to put myself in the mindset of a non-believer to better understand other people’s perspectives about the Catholic faith. A common misconception about saints is that they provide a sort of magical aid or instant assistance on particular issues. Communicating with the saints solely for the spiritual relief they provide can lead to a sort of idol worship—this is not the intention of the doctrine about the Communion of Saints.

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According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself (CCC 957).

Instead of leading us astray from God, communicating with the holy ones in Heaven is a great way to help increase our own holiness. Below are five reasons for why praying to the saints is not akin to usage of magic.

Other-centered vs. Self-centered

The primary aim of asking the saints for help through prayer is not about yourself. When I ask the saints for intercession it is usually to assist myself along with my family, friends, and the community around me. On the contrary, magic tends to be geared toward the individual. Fortune telling, Ouija boards, crystal ball reading, and other forms of magic are first and foremost focused on providing answers [usually regarding the future] for the person who uses the magic.

Call to Universal is Universal, Cauldron Brewing is a Niche Practice

Throughout the history of the Church, holiness has always been a universal call and not simply for priests and religious life. Saints appeal to everyone. In order for an individual to be officially canonized a saint they must help to a large amount of people. Truth is universal!

If a person truly lived virtuously their life would appeal to diverse population across time and space. For example, St. Augustine lived in the 4th century A.D., but his struggles with lust and promiscuity still relate to people in the 21st century who struggle with an addiction to pornography or treat sex as a casual act.

On the other hand, magic is not a universal practice. It is a niche field that appeals to a small section of humanity.

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Saints Help You Become the Best Version of Yourself

Along with being focused on others and a universal appeal, communication with the saints in Heaven ultimately help you become the best version of yourself. From my experience when I struggle with sin,  I reflect on individuals who struggled with similar temptations  and ask for help. My particular vice is anger.

Saint Jerome was known to be quite hot-headed and rash with his words. He minced words with St. Augustine several times throughout his life. Through prayer, study of the scriptures, and the sacraments, Jerome learned to overcome his anger problems. Examples like him serve as good role models for me to mimic. True and honest communication with the saints through prayer will only lead to you finding a better version of yourself!

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Magic Seeks Mastery over Material World, Sanctity Seeks Mastery over Spiritual Matters

Magic focuses on worldly matters and manipulation of matter. Alchemy seeks to transform ordinary objects into elements of greater value [i.e. other elements into gold]. Fortune telling seeks to grasp control of an individual’s future. Contrarily, praying to the saints leads to a mastery to spiritual vices and an increase in virtue.

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Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Perennial truth exists in Aesop’s timeless fable The Tortoise and the Hare. Although he was much faster, the hare assumed that the race was in the bag. Instead of running consistently through the entire race, the hare lazily snoozed for half of the race. On the other hand, the tortoise knew that the race was long, but he was constant and diligent. By the time the hare woke up the tortoise crossed the finish line. Throughout literature magic is usually a device individuals use as a shortcut to solving a problem or ethical dilemma. Oftentimes the quickest and easiest path is not always equated with the most dependable option—at least not in the long-term outlook.

Whenever I have asked the saints for assistance the relief was not immediately granted. Occasionally I received help quickly but it is not a guarantee in prayer. Regardless of the time-frame on when answers arrive from my prayer request I am always sure to pray CONSISTENTLY and BE THANKFUL.

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The saints help me love my neighbors better. Saints are models for how to grow in charity and humility. It is not enough to magically state, I love mankind in the conceptual sense. I meet the individual in the daily circumstances of my life. My spiritual helpers in the communion of saints draw me closer to Jesus and others!

Related Links

A Holy Kaleidoscope—The Diversity Of The Saints In Light Of Christ

The Beginner’s Guide to Catholic Saints

5 Stunning Facts about Saint Catherine of Siena

Aren’t We All ‘Saints’?

The Origins of Halloween & All Saints Day

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5 Reasons Why October is an Extra Holy Time

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“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” stated Albert Camus the 20th century French Novelist. Fall is my favorite time of the year. Colorful leaves carpet the lawns in my neighborhood. I enjoy seeing the visible transformation occur on trees and watching animals prepare for winter. My wife’s birthday is during October—the middle of fall. I am indebted to God for the gift of my marriage. Without my wife, my fervor for Divine Mercy and St. Maria Faustina—her confirmation saint— may not exist!

Reflecting on autumn, my wife, and the Polish saint allowed for me to have a profound revelation: the first week of October contains an all-star line-up for saint feast days!

Five of my personal favorite saints, and historical favorites among Catholics as well, have a feast day in the first part of October. On top of this amazing realization, October is also dedicated to the Holy Rosary and respect for all life. I will be dedicating other posts on these topics so I will focus on the five feast days of five stellar saintly role models:

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Guardian Angels

My children and I ask for the intercession of our guardian angels every night before bedtime. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 336, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.” God sends his messengers from Heaven to keep us safe and remind us of His Presence.

St. Therese of Liseux quote

Therese of Lisieux

According to St. Therese, “Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” Known as the Little Flower, the saint’s words provide a fresh perspective on my daily living and struggles. As a person who focuses on problems as something to be overcome, I sometimes place an emphasis on the amount of effort I have to put forth on a task. I also struggle with desiring recognition toward my works. Instead, if I focus on love as St. Therese teaches us, my life will be more joyful!

Francis of Assisi

Francis serves as an example of holiness, but for me, it is a personal reminder for my college days. I attended Franciscan University graduate schooling. The legacy the Italian saint left on me is truly immeasurable.

His transformation from a wealthy individual to a beggar of Christ is tangible example of the Gospel lived out. Struggling with envy and greed myself, I am able to look to Francis of Assisi as a role model. Lord make me an instrument of peace like your servant Francis!

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Maria Faustina

No other 20th century saint, besides John Paul II and Maximilian, has impacted me as much as St. Maria Faustina. Known as the Apostle of Divine Mercy, the Polish nun is to the 20th century what St. Paul was to the 1st century Church—the evangelizer of truth to the Gentiles! Sister Faustina helped console my wife after her best friend from high school died by suicide.

The Polish sister led my wife to convert to the Catholic faith as well! She became instrumental in deepening my relationship with God over the past decade. St. Faustina is probably the biggest influence on viewing God first as a merciful Father as opposed to a vengeful Judge. Through St. Maria Faustina I heard God’s truth in her words, “Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering, we learn who our true friend is.”

Saint Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila

The final heroic example of holiness the first week of October is St. Teresa of Avila. Her life differs from Maria and Therese as the Spanish saint lived a much longer life. Teresa also experienced more of a 180°-type of conversion.

As a young adult, Teresa enjoyed the allure of the world. It wasn’t until her entry into the convent that the Spanish nun learned the importance of meditative prayer. Teresa’s The Interior Castle is a profound spiritual work that explores the vastness of our spiritual journey. This spiritual treatise has helped aid me on my journey.

While autumn is akin to a second springtime, my communion with the saints during October is like a second spiritual springtime for me. My guardian angel, Therese of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi, Maria Faustina, and Teresa of Avila reflect God’s merciful and transforming love.

Through communion with these exemplary role models I am given hope that my personal vices of greed, envy, and pride are able to be overcome! The Church teaches “We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples!” (CCC 957). I pray the communion of saints will continue to guide you in your path toward holiness and ultimately lead us closer to God.

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Related Links

Spiritual Surgeons— Clean Out the Wounds of Your Soul with Teresa of Avila

3 Ways St. Maria Faustina Provided Buoyancy in the Overwhelming Ocean of Life

5 Astonishing Facts about Your Guardian Angel

St. Francis of Assisi: Lover of the Eucharist

Why I Absolutely Love Saint Therese Of Lisieux


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An Unexpected Journey- How September 21st, 2017 Became the New Start to My Spiritual Life

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Editor’s Notes: Originally published September 22nd, 2017


Over the past few weeks, life has been throwing stress-filled curveballs at me. Reeling from anxiety, anger, and frustration, I recently went to the spiritual medicine box—Confession—to gain sacramental graces to help me grow in patience and perspective. I experienced a true transformation in my life this week in the days following my reconciliation with God, the Church, and my fellow man. September 21st, 2017 became a new launching point for my spiritual journey. Excited for this re-start on my path toward Christian holiness, I will provide a few reasons why this date holds a special place in my heart.

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Anniversary of the Publication of The Hobbit

Eighty years ago, on September 21st, 1937, The Hobbit—an essential item on any fantasy fan’s bookshelf—was published. Eight decades later the tale of J.R.R. Tolkien still instills wonder in its readers.

Regrettably, I did not explore Middle Earth until my mid-20s. Over the past five years, I have read The Hobbit twice and The Lord of the Rings trilogy once.

A true literary treasure is measured through its ability to stand the test of time. Nearly a century later, I would say that Tolkien’s work passes with flying colors. Characters within the story seem to speak directly to me. For instance, the dwarf Thorin tells Bilbo, “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” How easy is it for us to lose memory of the importance things in life? I forget fairly quickly. Tolkien reminds me to look for the hidden joys in my life. Perhaps, an unexpected journey is in store for me starting September 21st, 2017.

St. Matthew

Happy Holiness Day

Along with the anniversary of The Hobbit, September 21st is the feast day of my patron saint—St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. Before his “coming to God moment”, Matthew worked for the Roman equivalent of the IRS. Hatred of paying government taxes is an innate principle built into humanity. Palestine 30 A.D. was no different. What courage and faith it must have taken Matthew to leave his luxurious, high paying government job?

Tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish people. They basically did the Roman government’s dirty work of extolling individuals for money. I always imaged how Matthew would fit in with Jesus’ motley crew of Apostles. Was he accepted right away? Did trust issues exist?

While such questions are purely speculative, but I find pondering the transition of Matthew from a hated tax collector to an evangelist helpful in my relationship with my patron saint. I too struggle to fit in at times, yet I am gifted with the ability to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ just like St. Matthew! September 21st is the beginning of my re-commitment to evangelize through my writing, family life, and volunteering at my parish. I hope to exhibit the same steadfast faith as Matthew did when Jesus said, “Follow me” (Luke 5:27).

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September of Sacraments

Together with my patron saint and favorite fantasy jubilees occurring on the same day, the month of September started as a transitional month for my family and I. My wife began a new job, our children started to get in the school routine, and changes galore occurred at work. Through the grace of God and ability in our hectic scheduling, and mostly due to my serious need for divine assistance I went to confession twice this month.

During my first confession, the priests gave me this amazing penance—pray the Prayer of Humility. Humility is the virtue that stands in opposition to the vice of pride. Pride is what made the Devil fall from his celestial pedestal as God’s favored angel. Pride leads me to be an inferior version of myself. Let us briefly ask God for the gift of true and beautiful humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved… From the desire of being extolled … From the desire of being honored … From the desire of being praised … From the desire of being preferred to others… From the desire of being consulted … From the desire of being approved … From the fear of being humiliated … From the fear of being despised… From the fear of suffering rebukes … From the fear of being calumniated … From the fear of being forgotten … From the fear of being ridiculed … From the fear of being wronged … From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I … That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease … That others may be chosen and I set aside … That others may be praised and I unnoticed … That others may be preferred to me in everything… That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

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Be on the Lookout for Your Unexpected Journey

Unexpected journeys are difficult, but the joy attained through its travel is immeasurable. Jesus tells his disciples [and us], “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). God asks us each day: will you follow me?

Starting on September 21st, 2017, I said yes! I renewed my commitment to follow His lead. Will I continue on this path? I certainly hope so, only time will truly tell. I will close with the following exchange between the hobbit and wizard before the great journey:

Gandalf: I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.

Bilbo: I should think so—in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them …

Gandalf: You’ll have a tale or two to tell when you come back

Bilbo: You can promise that I’ll come back?”

Gandalf: No. And if you do, you will not be the same

Related Links:

3 Similarities I Share with my Namesake— Saint Matthew

Could J.R.R. Tolkien ever be canonized a saint?

An Unexpected Journey? The Case For The Canonization Of J.R.R. Tolkien

How Tolkien’s Middle-Earth Introduced Me to Catholicism

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3 Lessons from St. Therese of Liseux—Changing Lives One Day at a Time


Editor’s Note: This post originally published on July 20, 2018.


Saint Therese of Liseux once stated, “Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” Part of the universal appeal of the Little Flower was her simplicity and humility when approaching the greatness of God.

As a classic over thinker and a perfectionist, I tend to overanalyze sanctity. Making checklists or reminders on my phone, I try to cram a bunch of spiritual activities into a week all the while juggling a healthy work, life, and exercise routine! I am exhausted simply thinking about scheduling confession in on a Saturday around my three children’s naptime and giving my wife time to go to the medicine box as well.

At work the stress continued. The constant barrage of complaints, concerns, and questions wear down a person. I try to give myself a few seconds rest between the hustle and bustle. St. Therese taught me three important lessons this week.

 

Saint Therese of Liseux

Start Small

The French saint wisely stated, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” I have previously written about the importance of small incremental steps to gain progress; however, it is always good to remind ourselves that great things start with doing the little things well.

Children learning to ride a bicycle do not normally go from training wheels to mountain/trail cycling overnight. Bumps, bruises, tears, and frustrations abound over the course of time when learning to ride a bike. The same is true in our pilgrim journey towards holiness. Missed opportunities of smiling at an annoying co-worker or your trouble neighbor does not help our advancement in our sojourn of sanctity. St. Mother Teresa matter-of-factly said, “You have to be holy where you are – wherever God has put you.”  Following in the footsteps of both Therese/Teresa’s I hope to remember daily to start little—with baby steps—as a I grow in holiness.

Fueled by the Fire of Love

According to Genesis 3, the curse place upon Adam [and later all mankind] was work being toilsome and difficult. In fact, the day of the Fall may have well been history’s first Monday! All joking aside, we normally dread work because it takes away of play—an activity of something which we enjoy and love doing. St. Josemaria Escriva declared, “Either we learn to find the Lord in the ordinary everyday life or else we shall never find him.”

fire of love

Very much in keeping with his spirituality, and likely a major influence for the Founder of Opus Dei, St. Therese reminds us that work need not be toilsome—as long as daily work is fueled by love. Watered by love—of God and neighbor—work blossoms into a sweet activity that paradoxically involves suffering but bring joy as well! “I understood that love comprises all vocations – that love is everything, and because it is eternal, embraces all times and places,” the sainted French nun declared.

Part of a Whole

The final piece wisdom the Little Flower of Lisieux imparted to me this week was the importance of seeing myself as a part of a larger whole. Now this is not to reduce myself to a small wheel in the cog of Catholicism—such as view is entirely utilitarian and reduces our relationship to other human beings as purely functional/technical.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 952, when speaking about the communion of saints, “Everything the true Christian has is to be regarded as a good possessed in common with everyone else. All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy. . . and of their neighbors in want.”487 A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods.” As a husband and father, I learned my will must be subordinated for the good of the other members of my family.

Love your neighbor

Easily declared from my theological armchair, I struggle mightily in the midst of family life and the bustle of raising children. Here is where the example and spiritual maturity of St. Therese again teaches me. On the subject of being a saint, Therese stated, “I realized that to become a saint one must suffer a great deal, always seek what is best, and forget oneself.”

Depend on God

The youngest of nine siblings Therese learned quickly in life that she could not always be the center of attention—although she did admit in her Diary of a Soul that her selfishness pervaded her very earliest of years. The Little Flower’s constant message in her writings about her [and our] need to have a complete dependency on God our Heavenly Father helped shift my selfish mindset toward others and the Ultimate Other.

Start small, easy your daily struggle with the fuel of love, and remember you are part of a larger whole—members of the human race. These three lessons the young, but wise French saint taught me this week.

Related Links

5 Reasons Why October is the Holiest Time of the Year

St. Therese of Lisieux is a Spiritual Powerhouse

Live Like St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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Say YES to the NO—Practicing Self-Denial

The Italian mystic St. Paul of the Cross boldly said, “Be as eager to break your own will as the thirsty stag is to drink of the refreshing waters.” I emphasized the phrase break your own will as that imaginary stood out as quite audacious. To break the will seems such a violent thing to do to yourself.

After researching a bit on this saint, I learned that Paul was the founder of the Passionists a religious order dedicated to a penitential life in solitude and poverty. Since Paul of the Cross lived in isolation from the world do his words hold any meaning for a regular, ‘normal’ people who hold down jobs, have a family? Should not “super-holiness” be reserved for priests and nuns?

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You are Called to Holiness

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2013, “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”65 All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We are coming up on the perfect season to increase our holiness— Lent! The Lenten season is modeled after Jesus’ 40-day time in the wilderness. Because Jesus is God, he was able to stave off the allures of the Devil. His witness showed that both praying and fasting disable the weaponry of the Evil One. The practice of self-denial is absolutely essential in growing in virtue! Saying YES to God through prayer allows us to say NO to those unhealthy pleasures of the world—through the practice of fasting.

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Say NO to Sin

struggle mightily with the pressures of the world, and those self-imposed. Anger, resentment, and impatience come as a result of succumbing to the things of this world. Self-reflection and renewing a practice for saying YES to pray helps begin a habit of saying NO to: impatience, pride, greed, envy, power-control, etc.

Saint Francis de Sales affirms the message of Paul of the Cross, the Catechism and Christ by stating, “The more one mortifies his natural inclinations, the more he renders himself capable of receiving divine inspirations and of progressing in virtue.” Be fast to practice fasting. If you struggle at first remember to say YES to God (pray!) in order to say NO to yourself.

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A Holy Kaleidoscope—The Diversity Of The Saints In Light Of Christ

Have you ever received gifts or trinkets growing up that you continue to keep for sentimental or nostalgic value? Something a family member or a friend gave you on a birthday or for a special event that remains on prominent display in your home?

Prism

I received a prism on my 8th birthday. A simple but an intriguing item. I kept it on my bookshelf for many years. Unfortunately, I lost the prism.  I still reflect (no pun intended) on the awesome light tricks: bending rays of light and creating miniature rainbows.  The splendid spectrum-forming crystal helped in forming simple and joyful memories with my siblings. Since lacking a physical prism, I still use a metaphorical prism as a perfect analogy for explaining how diversity (of light) can be reconciled into a focus of unity.

The word diversity tends to invoke sudden reactions from people. Perhaps it is due to a hostile political environment or maybe it is because various entertainment sources poke fun at striving for differences of thought (refer to The Office Season 1 Episode 3: “Diversity Day”). Even within my own workplace I hear co-workers scoff or grumble at the idea of recognizing differences in opinion, culture, thought, or belief. Oftentimes, failure to identify the good that people’s differences can bring for the greater good lead to hostile environments, bullying, fractured relationships, and promote self-centered tendencies.

Communion of saints

Rainbow of Holiness

Focusing on the ugliness of the differences in the trees leads to us missing out on the beauty of the forest when viewed all together—in unity. As a person who struggles mightily with change and a fervent desire to maintain consistency throughout the day, week, and year, I oftentimes fail to see how differences can promote unity.

Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, urges his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Prisms separate light into various hues. Analogously, the Holy Spirit bestows individuals various gifts (hues) of charisms. These gifts help spread the light of the Gospel. Only unified through the light of Christ may the saints provide various ways to communicate the Gospel. Saint John Paul the Great said, “Unity not only embraces diversity, but is verified in diversity.”

The Catholic Church teaches various paths to holiness exist. According to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium,

“All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian Life and the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society” (no. 40).

God calls everyone to holiness.

Ordained Saints

Holy Orders

I will not spend too much time on saints who received the sacrament of Holy Orders as the more famous saints that come to mind were priests, deacons, or bishops. According the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

“Since the beginning, the ordained ministry has been conferred and exercised in three degrees: that of bishops, that of presbyters, and that of deacons. The ministries conferred by ordination are irreplaceable for the organic structure of the Church: without the bishop, presbyters, and deacons, one cannot speak of the Church” (1593).

Saints that immediately come to mind who received the sacrament of Holy Orders include the following (not even close to an exhaustive list):

  • Peter
  • Augustine
  • Athanasius
  • Gregory the Great
  • Stephen
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Francis of Assisi
  • Francis de Sales

Married Saints

Saints Louis and Zelie Martin

The vast majority of the Catholic faithful consists of married couples and their families. However, when I was researching for this article I could not think of any married saint immediately off the top of my head. Perhaps it is because marriage is more commonplace than Holy Order. I think the diversity between a man and woman in the Mystery of the sacrament of Matrimony has been lost in our culture.

Not everything in marriage needed to be reduced to sameness between the spouses. If that happens a little bit of the Mystery may disappear. Marriage involves learning about your spouse. Love desires sacrifice. It’s not about conformity or coercion. I can’t expect my wife to be exactly the same as me. The sacramental grace received from the Holy Spirit helps us grow in holiness.

Diversity leads to unity.

Here’s a list of some married saints:

  • Louis and Zelie Martin (more famously known as the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux)
  • Monica (mother of St. Augustine)
  • Elizabeth Ann Seton
  • Joachim and Anne (parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Religious Saints

Saint Teresa of Avila

Individuals not called to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders or Matrimony, often go on to live out the vocation of the religious life. The Catechism states the following about this vocation,

“Religious life derives from the mystery of the Church. It is a gift she has received from her Lord, a gift she offers as a stable way of life to the faithful called by God to profess the counsels. Thus, the Church can both show forth Christ and acknowledge herself to be the Savior’s bride. Religious life in its various forms is called to signify the very charity of God in the language of our time” (926).

Saints who lived out this lifestyle provides an impetus to the Church in times of slow growth or decline. Among the saints who lived out their religious vocations include:

  • Benedict of Nursia
  • Teresa of Avila
  • Mother Teresa of Calcutta
  • Maria Faustina
  • Therese of Lisieux

Consecrated Life

Catherine of Siena

The fourth and final vocational path to holiness is the consecrated life. Such individuals do not receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Matrimony, nor life in a religious community. This vocation often gets misinterpreted as miscellaneous catch-all category for individuals either indecisive or uncommitted to the other ways to holiness.  But the consecrated life is a valid and essential vocation needed in the Church. The Catechism  reads highly of this vocation,

“The state of life which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, while not entering into the hierarchical structure of the Church, belongs undeniably to her life and holiness” (914).

This vocation in particular affords individuals a certain freedom, not enjoyed by the other vocational paths. People living out the chaste and consecrated life share their unique gifts with the world.

Saints who lived out this fourth path to holiness include:

  • Agatha
  • Lucy
  • Agnes
  • Catherine of Siena
  • Joan of Arc

Diversity (and Unity) of Love

Light of the world

According to Lumen Gentium,

“For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another” (32).

While the ever relatable analogy of the Body and its individual parts testify to the truth of the unity of the Catholic Church in spite of its diverse members, I find that the analogy of the light and the color-spectrum also provides an interesting view on this seeming tension between unity and diversity. Along with my gift of a prism, I enjoyed looking at kaleidoscopes. The beauty would be lost without having light to shed brilliance on the kaleidoscope. In a similar way, the uniqueness, diversity, and individual excellence of the saints would all be in vain unless viewed through the prism of Jesus Christ.

Related Links

Communion of Saints: The doctrine expressed in the Apostles’ Creed

5 Reasons Why October is the Holiest Time of the Year

The Deeper Meaning of the Communion of Saints

The Beginner’s Guide to Catholic Saints

 

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How the Letter of Saint James Guides Your Speech (and Heart)

Saint James the Less

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.

Kindness in words

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?

Tongue is a rudder of the body

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.

Tongue is a fire James 3:6

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.

Fire heals

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.

Saint Catherine of Siena fire quote

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).

Conclusion

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.

Related Links

3 Ways the Epistle of James Will Help You Succeed in Daily Life

What Can St. James Teach Us About Redemptive Suffering?

James 3

Thank you for sharing!