The Everyday Saints

The Everyday Saints

“I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it a holiness found in.. those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness’.”
– Pope Francis, ‘Gaudete Et Exsultate’

Celebrating All Saints Day, we might be tempted to think only of those whose names the Church places before us – the canonised Saints and the beatified Blesseds. And while this is good, we would be missing so much more.

Today’s feast is really about a different group, people who will never be remembered on any feast day except this one; for this is the feast of all those unnamed persons who have entered the joy of Heaven and upon whose intercession we now rely – and who are the un-canonised and ‘everday saints’.

In his extraordinarily beautiful Apostolic Exhortation ‘Gaudete Et Exsultate’, our Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us of these everyday saints who are all around us; they live next door, they live in our own homes; they are our relatives, our friends, our neighbours and those who have had a role in our lives. Pope Francis reminds us of something written by Edith Stein, better known as Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross. She wrote –

“The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remain invisible. Certainly, the most decisive turning points in history are substantially determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions.”

Pope Francis tells us that “holiness is the most attractive face of the Church” and reminds us that all of us are called to holiness – “each in his or her own way”, he says, quoting the Second Vatican Council. And so he appeals to us – “let the grace of your Baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness”.

When we think about these words of the Holy Father, it may occur to us that he is actually describing many people who have figured in our own lives – parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers and so forth. These are the ones who have put into practice what the Pope described above. It is for this reason that they are now enjoying the glory of Heaven – and it is these who we celebrate today on this feast of All Saints.

If we remember these good souls, it is perhaps because the Holy Father was right – holiness is indeed the most attractive face of our Church. There is something intangible but very real about souls such as this – it is as though their souls speak to ours, with “sighs too deeep for words” (cf. Rom.8:26) as St Paul describes it. But those wordless sighs do touch us and they achieve something within us. Years later, we will remember the effect such a soul had upon us even decades before through their example, a tender gesture, or a kind word. Something about their goodness lives on.

Today, we remember and we celebrate souls such as these, and we give thanks for them.

But if we stop there, we risk having missed the point.

And the point is this – that we learn the example they have placed before us and that we are changed and made better by it. And, God willing, perhaps one day we, too, will leave such an example, and have such an effect, upon a soul who will come after us. And in this way, through the grace and mercy of God, that we also enjoy the Beatific Vision in Heaven for all eternity.

May all the Saints of Heaven, those we know and those known only to the Lord, pray for us. And may Our Blessed Lady, the Queen of All Saints, pray for us.

Our Welcoming Mother

Our Welcoming Mother

“Pray for poor sinners”
– Our Lady at Lourdes

In our hearts, we know that the Most Blessed Virgin is always welcoming toward us and wants our good. Sometimes, however, our sinfulness puts us off approaching Her; we fear that She cannot possibly love one as sinful as us, that we would offend Her by coming before Her. This, of course, is untrue.

Saint Paul tells us clearly that “Christ died for sinful men.. what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (cf. Rom. 5:6,8). And if the Son can love us even as sinners, there is no doubt whatsoever that the Mother – perfectly conformed to the will of Her Divine Son – loves us in the same way. And yes, even while we are still sinners.

Saint Bernadette recounted that during the sixth appearance of Our Blessed Lady at the grotto of Lourdes –

‘The Lady, looking away from me for a moment, directed Her glance afar, above my head. Then, looking down upon me again, for I had asked Her what had saddened Her, she replied – ‘Pray for the sinners’. I was very quickly reassured by the expression of goodness and sweetness which I saw return to Her face, and immediately She disappeared.’

No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter how your sins – even if truly grievous – trouble you and weigh you down, go to your heavenly Mother. Place yourself before Her, ask Her intercession and be absolutely certain that She will give it to you. There is a very good reason why the Church, in her great wisdom, calls the Blessed Virgin the ‘Refuge of Sinners’.

Have courage and have confidence. Go to Her.

A Woman Pre-Figured

A Woman Pre-Figured

“And a great sign appeared in the Heavens, a Woman clothed with the Sun, with the Moon beneath Her feet and upon Her head, a crown of twelve stars..”

– Revelation 12:1

A beautiful woman – a queen, no less – disobeys the King, who issues a decree banishing her from his presence; he then determines that he will give her privileges to another, one more worthy than she. Later, a beautiful young Jewish woman has such a startling beauty that the King is entranced by her, for  “the young woman was beautifully formed and lovely to behold” (Es.2:7). Because of this, he “loved her more than all other women” and “placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen” (Es.2:17) in place of the original queen.

Through a particular set of circumstances, the chosen people stand accused before the King – “they do not obey the laws of the King; so it is not proper for the King to tolerate them” (Es.3:8). Consequently, on the thirteenth day of the month, a decree is issued for their destruction. Learning of the decree, the new queen, Esther, was “overwhelmed with anguish” (Es.4:4). And her uncle wonders – “perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen?” (Es.4:14). She then commands her people to fast and determines to plead for them before the King. Praying to God, the queen says –

“Lord, do not relinquish Your sceptre to those who are nothing.. be mindful of us, Lord. Make Yourself known in the time of our distress.. Save us by Your power.. O God, Whose power if over all, hear the voice of those in despair. Save us from the power of the wicked..” (Es.4C:26-30).

The woman then goes before the King, telling him – “You are awesome, my Lord, though your countenance is full of mercy” (Es.4D:14). And the King, listening to her pleas, determines that “Whatever you ask.. shall be granted you. Whatever request you make.. shall be honoured” (Es.7:2). In this way, the Queen saves her people by petitioning the King who has ordered their destruction and in, in the process, the true enemy of the King and the people is destroyed.

The young woman is Queen Esther, after whom the Old Testament book is named, although she is not a real historical person – the story is written to illustrate a point. But in reading the story of Esther, you may find yourself recognising some aspects of it, as though it is familiar. And indeed, it should be.

Interestingly, when She appeared at Fatima in 1917, the Mother of God wore a golden star on Her gown. ‘Esther’ translates as ‘star’. Perhaps this small detail had a certain significance.

The Church tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary is often ‘pre-figured’ in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. In other words, reading those texts after the fact and seeing them with the eyes of the Church and through the prism of history, we can see a ‘fore-shadowing’ of sorts, so that She is there even though those books were written long before She came into existence. Mary is found in so many places within the Old Testment, but She is hidden in plain sight. Now, this might seems a strange thing – until we remember that while we are living in a particular moment of human history, God is not. God is beyond time and history and all human constraints; for God, there is only the eternal ‘now’. 

In the same way that the Prophets and texts of the Old Testament spoke of the Messiah who would come later, so too did these same texts often give clues about His Mother. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the prophecy of Isaiah, who says –

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son..” (Is.7:14).

Another example is the ‘Proto-Evangelium’, found in the Book of Genesis –

“I will put enmity between you and the Woman between your offspring and Hers” (Gn.3:15)

The Proto-Evangelium is interesting in that it specifies the coming of the Lord specifically through the Woman, making an explicit point of mentioning Her directly, as though to emphasise Her importance and Her singular place in the broader plan which will unfold later on.

It is interesting, too, that in the New Testament the Lord refers to His Mother specifically as ‘Woman’ – almost as though He is obliquely reminding us that the Woman through whom the Messiah will come, and the Woman He is presently addressing, are one and the same. This ‘Woman’ will appear again later on, in the revelation of Saint John –

“And a great sign appeared in the Heavens, a Woman clothed with the sun, with the Moon beneath Her feet and upon Her head, a crown of twelve stars..” (Rev:12:1)

In these texts, then, there is a sense of mystery; what they speak of is not yet seen in full light, and they will only be realised later – and on looking back on them afterwards, their meaning becomes clearer.

The Church refers to Mary as ‘the New Eve’, as the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ and other attributions which directly reflect themes already present in the Old Testament, giving them a new meaning, or perhaps more accurately, renewing their meaning.

Taken together, all these various texts suggests something very clear indeed, and it is this; in the Divine plan, the Lord always intended that the Blessed Virgin would be the one through whom the Messiah would come to us, Her place is a singular one and She remains present throughout the entirety of this plan of salvation for poor errant humanity.

The Catechism tells us that “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it” (para.964). Where you find Christ, you will find Mary; and wherever you find Mary She will always point you to Her Divine Son.

Quoting ‘Lumen Gentium’, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Catechism tells us one more thing –

“In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God.” (para.972)

Often, then, what is said of the Church is said of the Blessed Virgin, and the words applied to Her apply equally to the Church. In the same way that the Mother of God has already made Her pilgrimage of faith to perfect completion, so too do we hope that the Church will continue to make her own pilgrimage; that one day, the glory presently enjoyed by the Mother of God in Heaven, will be shared by the Church.

May She who is the Woman of both Genesis and Revelation, this Queen who stands pleading for Her people before the Mighty One, never fail to support us as we – together with the entire Church – make our own pilgrimage of Faith as we journey home to the New Jerusalem. 

From The Earliest Days

From The Earliest Days

We fly to Thy protection, O holy Mother of God..’

– Sub Tuum Praesidium

Most Catholic children are very fortunate in that from their earliest days, they were introduced to and told about the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And so for us, She has always been there. Our parents taught us the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer, simple enough even for little children. And because we learned this prayer in our childhood, it is perhaps one we turn to over and over, in those moments when we are aware that we need Her help and intercession. Turning to Her is ingrained in us; it is part of who we are as Catholics and as people.

Similarly, the early Christian Church – there was only one, for there were no divisions at that time – was accustomed to turn to the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of the Lord. At the birth of the Church She was physically present, having been there amongst the Apostles with Her Son. After His Ascension, She remained with them and was praying in union with them at Pentecost, when the Church was born.

From the period immediately following the Apostolic Era, Christians turned to the Mother of the Lord in prayer, just as we do today. The earliest written prayer addressed to Her, the ‘Sub Tuum Praesidium’, dates back to around 250 AD. And so when we pray to the Blessed Virgin today, we are in very good company – we are the latest in a very long line of Her spiritual children, stretching back down the centuries to those ancient times.

The Church calls Our Blessed Lady the ‘Virgin Most Faithful’. She is faithful to the mission entrusted to Her at the foot of the Cross by Her Son when He said “behold Thy son”; referring to John, these words of the Lord encompass every single one of us, entusted to His Mother as Her children.

Her faithfulness to this mission is evident at Pentecost, where She remained in prayer with Apostles for nine days (and it from this that we have the word ‘novena’, or nine days of prayer), for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Mary is intrinsically linked to the life of the Church and to the action of the Holy Spirit within it. The first time the Holy Spirit descended upon Her, Christ was conceived; the second time, it was His Mystical Body, the Church. As She is Mother to Christ in the order of nature, so is She Mother to the Church in the order of grace. This is – and always was – a central part of the Divine plan for the Church and for the human family.

Today, then, when we come to the Blessed Virgin in prayer, we are fulfilling the will of God, Who desires that we take Her as our Mother, as surely as She has taken us as Her children.

A Call To Peace

A Call To Peace

“We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved”

– ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (Pope Francis)

In his recent Encyclical Letter ‘Fratelli Tutti’, on the call to fraternity and brotherhood, our Holy Father Pope Francis had written about why he felt this document was necessary in the present moment –

“Issues of human fraternity and social friendship have always been a concern of mine. In recent years, I have spoken of them repeatedly and in different settings. In this Encyclical, I have sought to bring together many of those statements and to situate them in a broader context of reflection.”

Over the last week, the Holy Father has written about the need for education, which “bears within itself a seed of hope: the hope of peace and justice; the hope of beauty and goodness; the hope of social harmony”He has written about the true nature of fulfilment – “We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our hearts are filled with faces and names”And he has written about the theme of the common humanity – “Our love for others, for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives. Only by cultivating this way of relating to one another will we make possible a social friendship that excludes no one and a fraternity that is open to all”.

The broad sense throughout these quotations is that we stand or fall together – we are one single human family, regardless of location, race, education, religion, colour or anything else we might use as ways of dividing us.

Writing again today, Pope Francis makes this point very clearly and notes the reality of this unity –

“We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet.”

There is a prophetic witness in these words of the Holy Father. They are very much ‘counter-cultural’ – our society does not presently look up to fraternity as an ideal. Instead, the world of today values separation and isolation, nationalism and division.

This is the age of the individual. Our focus is almost exclusively on ourselves, paying only lip-service to the reality of a common humanity where the whole is affected by issues relating to the various parts.

In a strange way, the present pandemic offers us an opportunity to reflect on these thoughts of the Pope, and to come to see them as a call to action and to change, as a reminder that we experience life together as one human family, rather than as a vast collection of individuals.

Earlier today, I read a very interesting article which touched on some of these themes, but which also took them one step further, and this made me think – and agree.

The author of that article, Massimo Borghesi, said that ‘Fratelli Tutti’ “must be read carefully to be properly understood”. He pointed out that one risk is that we see the words of the Holy Father as little more than “a series of pious intentions”. Instead, he said we should note carefully where these words are coming from – the perspective of one who sees that the world “is headed towards war”. Calamitous as this might sound at first reading, his point is a sobering one – and one worth considering.

He went on to discuss a number of the world changes which have taken place since the 1980s, especially the deconstruction of many of the ideas, commitments and institutions which have played a pivotal role in holding together an otherwise-brittle world. Of particular note, he mentioned changes in Europe, tensions between those nations which are most capable of global destruction, and the growing sense of separatism and isolationism which is spreading throughout the world. Added to all of this is the polarisation at every level, which is covering the world in a dark shadow.

His central point was that it is into this present situation, coloured by all the changes mentioned, that the Holy Father is giving us the benefit of his perspective.

This is why the Holy Father calls us to be part of a new culture of encounter – between peoples, nations, religions – so that through dialogue, we might find common paths, recognising our common humanity as one single family. And all of this, accomplished in the recognition of a Truth which is greater than us, and which provides the possibility of that dialogue and fraternity to which the Encyclical calls us. For the Holy Father, our Christian identity is central to this – it is the spoke of the wheel, as it were. The proclamation of the Gospel is the determining factor in all this, and it is the Gospel which demands that we go forward in the way proposed, and which gives meaning to that impetus.

Yes, our world is in an increasingly precarious position, and the state of individualised and polarised humanity – whether in religion, nationalism or politics – leaves a lot to be desired. All of this is certainly true. But more than this, there is hope – there is always hope. And for us as Christians, “we put our hope in the Lord.. in Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name” (Ps33:20-21).

All of this brought me back to the message of Fatima and some of the words spoken there by the Blessed Virgin Mary –

“..pray the Rosary every day in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, because only She can help you..”

In those few words, delivered at Fatima in July 1917, She seemed to summarise all that would come later in the words of Pope Francis and of Massimo Borghesi. She seemed, too, to give us the cure for the evils that would descend upon us. Prayer, reparation, the living of a Sacramental life, and devotion to Her Immaculate Heart – this devotion being the specific way to change some things, whilst preventing other things.

It was clear, too, in Her words that the Lord God is concerned not only for our spiritual health, but also for our temporal well-being. More than this, the two were intrinsically linked – war was a punishment for sin; prayer and reparation had the power to change human history.

Perhaps much of what we are presently experiencing stems from our having stopped our ears, so that we no longer hear or pay attention to that heavenly message from 1917 – a message which is as crucial now as then, if not more so.

Listening to the Holy Father, and to those who rightly understand his words and echo their prophetic call in these days, perhaps we need now to go back to basics, recognising that all we are living through may well be the realisation of some of what was referred to all those years ago at Fatima.