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.

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. 

 

Close to Her Heart

Close to Her Heart

“I have been living under the virginal cloak of the Mother of God. She has been instructing me and guarding me. I am quite at peace, close to Her Immaculate Heart.”

– Saint Faustina Kowalska

Saint Faustina Kowalska is the Polish mystic and Saint – the first canonised Saint of the Third Millenium – who is associated with the Divine Mercy devotion. It was to her, in the 1930s, that the Merciful Jesus appeared with His message of great mercy for souls, a reminder that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. And it was as a result of the revelations granted to her that we have the Image of Divine Mercy.

Saint Faustina was also greatly devoted to the Mother of God, like all the Saints who preceded her. She saw the Blessed Virgin, who guided her and directed her and ensured she remained faithful to the message being given to the world through her. Perhaps this is not so very surprising, since Poland and Lithuania are renowned as nations who particularly love the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is especially loved and venerated there under the title of ‘Our Lady of Mercy’.

In her Diary, Saint Faustina notes –

“I have been living under the virginal cloak of the Mother of God. She has been instructing me and guarding me. I am quite at peace, close to Her Immaculate Heart.”

This, of course, is the perfect place for any of us to be – ‘close to Her Immaculate Heart’. There, we can be certain that we are also close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for no heart was ever so close to Him as that of His own Mother; where we find Mary, there we find Jesus.

As the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Faustina today, 5th October, may we all reflect on these words of the Saint and follow her example – taking our own place ‘close to Her Immaculate Heart’.

The Locks We Carry

The Locks We Carry

When life seems hard, when going on seems almost impossible – turn to the Mother of God. Ask Her help. And if you cannot even pray – just be close to Her, and know that She is very close to You. 

None of us goes through life feeling that everything is wondeful, that we are entirely care-free, or with uninhibited joy which makes us feel like balloons rising into a beautiful cerulean sky without clouds.

On the contrary, for most of us, we carry various worries and woes, problems, insecurities and fears.

And these tend to feel like heavy padlocks which are locked up inside us and which weigh us down – often quite considerably. We might not always be aware of their presence – but when life seems hard, we are generally reminded of their presence. And we have no way to unlock those padlocks nor to cast them off.

In moments such as these, it is always good to turn confidently to the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She understands our fears, calms our anxieties and obtains for us every grace we need to bear our trials well, for those occasions when it is not the will of the Lord to remove them from us; He has His own plans for us and may well intend that such trials obtain for us a greater good, one we are not aware of.

The Blessed Virgin is delighted when we come before Her, like the little children we are, seeking the consolations of this most beautiful Mother. Even if we are very sinful and far from Her Son, still She welcomes us; in fact if anything, She is more delighted for such a soul to turn to Her and to seek Her intercession.

When life seems hard, when going on seems almost impossible – turn to the Mother of God.

Ask Her help. And if you cannot even pray – just be close to Her, and know that She is very close to You.