“Sister Mary Bonaface, help me find a parking space.” In all my years of Catholic schooling, this little ditty and the vague idea that you should bury some saint’s figurine upside down if you are having a difficult time selling your house are what immediately come to mind when I hear the word “saint.”
The irony is that since I have become a Protestant, I find myself more interested in learning about the lives of the saints than I did during my spotty tenure in the Catholic Church. While I do not align theologically with the Vatican in many matters, I have a great respect for the Catholic Church, as it was within her doors that I learned to fear God and grew to appreciate the beauty of the liturgy as a child.
As an avid reader of biographies, I read about whomever comes my way, mostly by way of the used book store up the road. Thus, I find myself reading well outside of the circles I would normally find myself communing with on a day to day basis. Recently a book called My Life with the Saints, part spiritual memoir and part introduction to a handful of saints, caught my eye. The author, James Martin, a wild, worldly businessman turned Jesuit priest, introduces the reader to his favorite saints in the order in which he happened upon them in his faith journey.
Addressing the different ways of viewing and approaching the saints within the Catholic Church, Martin draws the distinction between the patronage model and the companionship model. In the patronage model, “the faithful request favors from the saints,” while in the companionship model, which was more predominate in the historic church, “the saints are our friends, those who have gone ahead of us and are now cheering us along, brothers and sisters in the community of faith.”
Feeling more at ease with the second approach to the saints, I found myself intrigued by the lives of two Theresa’s. There I was, a Reformed Protestant mut of sorts (grew up nominally Catholic, spent time in non-demoninational churches until the Lord landed me in the land of Protestantism), learning from two beautiful women through their biographies.
Therese of Liseux called herself “a Little Flower,” recognizing that though she was small and seemingly insignificant, God intended her life to be one of beauty and faithfulness. In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she writes the following:
“Jesus deigned to teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the little violets or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked with little wild flowers. And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to Lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looked down at his feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.”
When choosing her religious name, Agnes from Albania, known to us as Mother Theresa chose to honor St. Terese of Liseux, seeking to follow in her “little way.” Little needs to be said of the impact of Mother Theresa on our world, but as I studied her life more in depth through Mary Poplin’s book Finding Calcutta and Malcolm Muggeridge’s Something Beautiful for God, she became more human and less super human myth. Mother Theresa truly practiced faithfulness little step by little step, honoring God in whatever or whomever was right in front of her.
She wrote, “I believe in person to person; every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the only one person in the world for me at that moment.”
In an age where the Kardashians or the latest pop artists are quickly hailed as heroes, I find myself looking for heroes who have lived their lives well in and through and for Christ, heroes who lived in light of eternity. I am not looking for the perfect person, as I know that person walked the earth over 2,000 years ago; however, I am hungry for story after story in which His truth and Spirit are played out through limited and sinful, yet faithful souls.
When we hunt for heroes, we must remember that the Lord deals with His children uniquely and particularly. Saint Therese of Liseux quoted a priest as having told her, “There really are more differences among souls than there are among faces.” I find myself agreeing heartily. There is no pattern or formula for a life lived well in Christ outside of the clear principles laid out in his word. That being said, there is so much to learn from the lives of faithful heroes, living and deceased. There is nothing that pushes me forward like watching or reading about God’s faithfulness through ordinary people.
The danger comes when we begin looking at our various heroes, rather than through them back to the One who loved them graciously and whom they sought to serve.
There are so many lives to learn from and so little time. The cloud of witnesses, be they canonized saints or commoners, is large and we have much to learn. It’s time to hunt for heroes and be pushed further into our One True Hero and Hope, Christ. Happy hunting.