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!