Who’s your BFS?
This past weekend Pope Francis solemnly pronounced what the faithful have known for nearly 20 years now – that Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a saint. I had a front row seat via the various social media newsfeeds to the devotion this little woman inspired in people across all ages and cultures, and it was inspiring to behold. It was also a little disturbing to see that my social media worldview is so myopic that every single “friend” or follower, almost to a fault, was going gaga over little St. T. (Either that or the entire world really was focused on Rome last weekend. Dare to dream.)
But I digress.
Last night I lay in bed, unable to sleep and so fingering my rosary – a gift from our youngest son’s godfather which was touched to the body of Mother Angelica while she lay in state last spring (#Catholicsbecray) and I wondered over the phenomenon of how certain saints inspire such fervent devotion in the faithful, and others kind of fly under the radar for centuries, popping up in a later age only to be discovered as unbelievably important and applicable. I’m thinking here of St Therese, St Faustina, saints like those who’s sanctity was kind of discovered quietly and after their mortal lives had ended, exploding from the halls of eternity into the present with a kind of grace bomb that was exactly what the world and the Church needed at that precise moment.
I was also thinking about how most people seem to have favorite saints, and while there are a few universal rockstars beloved by the entire Church, there are thousands and thousands more who are still – or are now – relatively unknown. And I think it’s awesome. It’s awesome that God gives us saints to befriend and emulate and petition for prayers and heavenly assistance because it’s such a tangible connection between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. And it is so like our incarnational God to leave a kind of mentoring channel open between the would-be and the have-been Saints.
I love to hear people’s stories about why they named their kids a certain name, or what the significance of that huge St. Joseph statue in their office is, or why they wear that particular marian medal. It’s fascinating to me how our best friend saints (BFSs if you will) seem to choose us, and not necessarily vice versa.
I heard so many recountings of what Mother Teresa meant to people last week in the lead up to her canonization: how she changed a life with a single encounter, how she’d been a faithful intercessor for a mother for many years, how she’d given a certain piece of advice and redirected the trajectory of a soul.
And I thought, of course, of my own BFS, St. John Paul II, and how much I love him.
How generous the Lord is, to give us such wild variations in personality and life circumstances and historical context. There’s literally a saint for pretty much anything you can think up, and I’d wager there’s a saintly personality that almost anyone on earth can relate to. It calls to mind CS Lewis’ words:
“How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.”
I love JPII for his holy boldness, for his bravery, for his unwavering courage in the face of tyranny, for his propensity to speak truth to power, for his deep love for human love, and for his profound understanding of the mystery of the human person and of the dignity of our sexuality. I think even if he hadn’t played a pivotal role in my own conversion story, I would have come to know and love him. But it’s a hundred times sweeter that he did, and that as I grew to know him better, my heart recognized in his a kindred spirit. Because how like God is that? It’s a bit like discovering the goodness of fit between your spouse’s and your own while you’re dating, to have that moment of encounter and thrill to the realization of “you, too?”
I’m excited for my children to discover their own intercessory champions as they grow and mature in their faith. Even as little boys, my 2 eldest have beautiful devotions to St. Nicholas and St. Anthony, which is funny because we’ve not named anyone after those two great men yet. Our little family has a strong devotion to St. Joseph and to St. Maximilian Kolbe, and of course to JPII, but my biggest boys have saint friends all their own, without any real influence on our part. How crazy is grace?
So who are your BFSs? And if you don’t have one in particular who jumps out to you, have you ever stopped to ask the Lord to reveal one to you? Some years I’ve used Jen Fulwiller’s saint name generator and let a saint “choose” me at random, but my deepest and persisting devotions have been discovered more organically through life circumstances.
Thank God for friends in high places, and for friendships that span time and space. Only a creative God like ours could have come up with such craziness.
St. John Paul II, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese, St. Rose of Lima, St. Joseph, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Anthony, St. Genevieve, St. Luke, St. David, St. Nathan, St. Francis, St. Nicholas, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and Mother Angelica, and all you holy men and women, pray for us!
I’ve always loved the idea of saints choosing us! And of all the saints who are not known too well! I actually hadn’t known that one of my faves, St. Thomas More, has a story like that — Lindsay Boever wrote about it on my blog recently: “I also love the ‘little’ spiritual guys. I love their massive stories that God has not yet revealed in their fullness to the world quite yet because his timing is ALWAYS perfect and each story is destined for a specific point in history. I think of St. Thomas More. The grandness of his story didn’t surface until 500 years after his death. His virtue was actually forgotten for centuries. God wasn’t ready for him yet!” What an exciting thought! I can’t wait to see who else might be revealed to us, and when, and for what purpose!
I can guarantee this picture of your son as young karol (JPII) is making heaven smile!
My BSF is St. Therese of Lisieux. In 1980 I had a son. I was single, but returned to the Church and had my son baptized. My pastor said “We will be his father.” (My son actually told him Happy Fathers Day a few years later.) In the summer of ’82 I made a novena to Saint Therese, asking for help finding a good husband, and father for my son. A couple months later I met an older lady at a Church group, who later called me and invited my son and me to dinner with her and her adult son, shortly before Thanksgiving Day. We met, enjoyed talking, had a few dates (most of which were outings planned for my son), and got engaged on Christmas Day. After we made wedding plans for June with our parish priest on the day after New Years, I remembered my novena request. “Dear St. Therese, if this is the man God wants me to marry, have him bring me a rose.” On my birthday, January 30, my very practical, logical fiance brought me 12 exquisite red roses! Our first daughter is named for my BSF.
Oh, I loved this! It reminds of something I read in one of Fr. Michael Gaitley’s books, (I paraphrase) that each person reveals a particular and unique aspect of God. His person being too brilliant and bright to behold, we catch these unique glimpses of Him in others. This is particularly evident in the saints, and it all goes together to form a beautiful taspestry we call the communion of saints, which reveals the face of God.
I imagine that when I arrive at heaven my BFS’s will greet me and show me to the throne. JPII (naurally), St. Therese of Liseiux (who “chose” me as my confirmation saint), and Fulton Sheen (hopefully soon-to-be saint, but never-the-less, I’m sure he’ll be there.)
It’s funny, I have a great devotion to Divine Mercy and read from St. Faustina’s diary daily, but I don’t feel the same filiality with her as I do with the above Saints.
You are right about saints choosing us. I spun the wheel of a “saint generator” to give me a patron saint of the year and it was Hildegard of Bingen. The next day, my friend who is an herbalist wrote a lengthy update about her devotion to her on facebook. The next day, I overhear a perfect stranger talk about how he is taking a tour group out to Hildegard’s old stomping grounds. Her abbey was only 20 minutes away from where I was living!! Whoah! She was largely unknown for many years. The church where she began as a nun was even destroyed to make a train station out in Bingen (she was not even declared blessed at that point). Across the banks of the Rhein, there is a beautiful Abbey in Eibingen that still stands today. It is lovely with a breathtaking view of the Rheingau, vineyards and castles dotting the cliffs. The nuns there are hosting a refugee family in the guest house. Beautiful place. Hildegard surely chose me!
I had this vivid dream about saint Jean Marie Vianney (introducing himself as the “curé d’Ars”) before I had ever heard of him, so I know he’s got my back (maybe it means one of my sons will be a priest?)
Also, I complained on my blog that The Story of a Soul did nothing for me, and ever since I find saint Thérèse’s little way saving my butt every day. But then it’s just like her to shower attention on someone who was disagreeable to her!
I love St Therese, but I think commentaries written on her book can be more helpful than the book itself!
Oh amen. Love #catholicsbecray. It’s so true: I frequently say “St. Xxxxxxx stalked me today.” Um…that sounds so weird when I stop & think about it! You made me think about saints I love & who seem to have adopted me…and how they also seem to be friends of my children automatically–even if I don’t talk about them much.
My BFS is St. Damien Joseph de Veuster (of Molokai), who gave his life ministering to the lepers in Hawaii. I read a biography of him as a teenager, and was completely fascinated. I ended up becoming a nurse, and had the amazing opportunity to travel to several 3rd-world countries to volunteer with the Missionaries of the Poor, who care for severely handicapped children, the homeless, and those with AIDS and leprosy. I have several photos of him around my house – he’s like a family member, haha! And then last year I found out I was pregnant… on his feast day… and it was a boy. So now I have my own little Damien Joseph. 🙂
When my son pregnancy, we named him Samuel Jude. I loved the story of young Samuel and, “Speak, your servant listens,” and Jude was because I had prayed for St Jude’s intercession so much during my pregnancy.
At age 12, Sam’s leukemia relapsed, and his faith, which had already been deepening during his treatment, utterly blossomed. Despite our protests that he already had St Jude as a patron by virtue of his middle name, he was adamant that St Jude would be his confirmation patron.
The last few weeks of his life, he no longer asked to be healed, but rather, “Jesus, lead me,” and “Mary, wrap your arms around me.” Certainly he was taking after the prophet Samuel as a young boy.
And Sam died early in the morning of October 28: the feast day of his patron, St Jude.
This is so incredible, it gave me shivers. Thank you for sharing
That first line is bizarre, but I think you can figure out what I intended to say!
As Rose mentioned above, reading something substantive about a saint’s life will draw us closer to them. So too will their own personal writings. I read all of the writings of the Carmelites St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila and they are very influential in my life. I also read the writings of Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity who is to be canonized this coming October. One work that really surprised me was the autobiographical writings of Pope John XXIII. He is so different from the false image people project upon him to suit their own purposes. It was not until I read his own words in “Journal of a Soul” (his personal diary entries from his very early life until his death) that I found such simplicity and holiness as to be completely taken by him.
Sometimes it is the recommendation of someone else that brings us into relationship with a saint. My realtor brought St. Joseph into my life 20 years ago through the ordinary custom of praying for his intercession in the sale of a home, but it evolved into such a deeper relationship that it has never left me and he is the dearest companion and spiritual father to me.
Then there are those saints that we choose unknowingly and only discover later on how connected they are to us. Such is the case with St. Elizabeth of Hungary whom I chose for my confirmation name. I learned so much more about her and understood her life more clearly later on, and so drew closer to her in the days of my own motherhood.
Saints are often much like the other friendships in life. We have certain periods in our life when we are blessed by the presence of a given saint that really speaks to that stage of life we are passing through. As time passes, they may “move away” and someone new comes along. We never forget about them, and from time to time we call upon them. But they really were a gift to us in our time of particular growth in which they played a role. As you say, Jenny, there are so many of them who are there to help us, and sometimes we find them, while other times they do really find us.
St Joseph and St Joshua, figure of the Christ, and of course remembering also Mary, figure of the Church (Rahab), alleluia!
When my daughter Martha was 3, I asked her who her favorite saint was. She quickly replied, “Saint Joseph.” I asked why and she said, “I just love him.” “What do you love about him?” “I love his name.”
A while later I mentioned to a friend that Martha was born the same day our house construction started. I described how she went through all the dust, noise and leaking with us (we were actually living in the house while it was being built). My friend laughed and said, “Now I know why Saint Joseph is Martha’s favorite saint!” As a newbie Catholic, I hadn’t even made the connection of house building, children, and Saint Joseph.
Now I’m looking forward to seeing who my younger son picks, or who picks him!
Anyone have a book list of good, worthwhile Saint books? There are so many out there but if you know a list of the best, I’m interested. I didn’t grow up learning about saints and although now I have great appreciation for them, I want to go deeper so I can better connect our children to our heavenly friends.
Also, I prayed to Mother Teresa a few months ago upon discovering I had my first bout of mastitis (3rd baby). Sorry if that’s too personal to share. But with MT’s intercession, I prayed for a quick recovery so I may be able to care for my family. With no medical intervention, I was healed within 2 days. I believe she helped because I had full on symptoms and have heard it typically takes much longer to recover from than a total of 2 days. So now I recommend her for those in need of healing, especially when others depend on you to care for them. I imagine she was empathetic to me because so many depended on her, she likely had no time to be ill either!
I can recommend a number of books and authors, but it depends upon the ages of your children, too. Also, some parishes have their own library collection, so sometimes you can borrow very good ones as well, so you can try that out, too. It just depends upon how they put together their collection (i.e. random cast offs or well thought out collection).
My first favorite is a book called Heroes of God’s Church by Father P. Henry Matimore, STD. It is a collected work of stories about 25 saints for children. I read these to my children when they were young, and we all loved them. It was published by Neumann Press.
A more classic work is Butler’s Lives of Saints. I didn’t own this one, but recall it from my own youth. You can download it for free (from either site below):
Mary Fabyan Windeatt wrote a whole collection of books on the lives of saints. I especially recommend Saint Paul the Apostle: The Story of the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is a very engaging story, and very thoroughly goes through the life of St. Paul and illuminates for the reader a lot of detail about his travels and commitment to evangelizing and really helps one to put in context and understand the connection of the letters of Paul in the Bible. Adults will enjoy it as well. Published by TAN.
Another author is Louis de Wohl. These works are available through Ignatius Press. I have The Joyful Beggar: A Novel about Saint Francis of Assisi and also Set All Afire (which is about St. Francis Xavier). There is quite a collection to choose from. These are novel style books.
In general, Ignatius Press is an excellent source. They have a new book coming out called Catholic Saints for Children. Given their quality of materials, I would think it is worth a risk.
Another book I enjoyed sharing with my children is A Bishop, A Priest: The Life of Saint John Neumann (by Neumann Press). I especially liked the book because it shows you something of the early roots of the Catholic Church in America. It also is inspiring as a vocation story, showing the challenges of being a priest, and later on, a bishop. His perseverance is inspiring. So is his humility.
Another online source for saints is “Catholic Online” http://www.catholic.org/saints/fun_facts_arch.php
For your own education on any saint, you can always look them up in the the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia online. Usually very extensive, carefully researched information is given. The menu bar at the top of their webpage can link you to a great many other resources, such as writings of the Church Fathers, the Bible, and other useful things.