Our Lady’s Martyr

Our Lady’s Martyr

“If anyone does not wish to have Mary Immaculate for his Mother, he will not have Christ for his Brother.”

– St Maximilian Kolbe

Some Saints of the Church seem to really stand out from the crowd – the crowd of normal and everyday humanity, but also the ‘crowd’ of the blessed in Heaven. Maximilian Kolbe is such a Saint and he occupies a notable place in the history of the Twentieth Century. His death is something of a point of reference for that age, and it is also a contradiction to that era and to the terrible events which came to characterise it. His story is now very well-known but it bears repeating, even if in a brief and simple form here.

It is interesting to note, too, that three of the greatest Saints of the Twentieth Century all came from Poland – Faustina Kowalska, Pope John Paul II, and Maximilian Kolbe.

He was not always called Maximilian – at birth and throughout his earlier years, his name was Raymond (‘Rajmund’ in Polish). He was the son of a weaver and a midwife, one of five sons. Even in childhood he was devoted to the Mother of God and he told the story of something which happened when he was 12, an event which was to become a foundation for all that would follow in his later life. Here is how he himself described it –

“That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then She came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.”

A year later, Rajmund and one of his brothers joined the Conventual Franciscan seminary in Lwow. Three years alter, he was permitted to enter the noviciate and he received his new religious name – Maximilian. He made his final vows as a Franciscan in 1914. By that time, he was already in Rome studying for the doctorate in philosophy which he gained the following year. He went on to earn a doctorate in theology, also.

More importantly for our story here, however, in something which took place in 1915. Along with a few friends, Maximilian formed a group which they called the ‘Militia Immaculatae’ – the Knights (or Army) of the Immaculate. The aim of this group was to encourage consecration to Mary Immaculate. Part of the inspiration for this were events Maximilian had witnessed in Rome – demonstrations organised by Freemasons where they raised the ‘black standard’ showing Saint Michael being trampled by Lucifer, while giving out little pamphlets attacking the Holy Father. Part of the spiritual goal of the new Militia Immaculatae, then, was the conversion of sinners – and especially Freemasons. In fact, this was such an important goal to the young Friar that he amended the prayer given on the Miraculous Medal, so that it read –

‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee – and for all those who do not have recourse to Thee, especially the Freemasons, and all those recommended to Thee.’

Maximilian had a great devotion to the Miraculous Medal, named in honour of the Immaculate Conception, and he believed conmpletely in the power of the Woman depicted upon it, distributing all of God’s graces as She chooses. He would give away thousands of these and would say –

“Even though a person be the worst sort, if only he agrees to wear the medal, give it to him…and then pray for him, and at the proper moment strive to bring him closer to his Immaculate Mother, so that he might have recourse to Her in all difficulties and temptations .. This is truly our heavenly weapon, a bullet with which a faithful soldier hits the enemy, i.e. evil, and thus rescues souls.”

St Maximilian Kolbe

He returned to Poland after ordination to the Priesthood and was assigned a teaching role in the seminary at Krakow. However, his health was already deteriorating because of the tuberculosis from which he was suffering and so his teaching role was dotted with long absences. At it’s completion in 1922, he began publication of a new magazine which he called ‘Knight of the Immaculate’, having taken inspiration from the similar French magazine, the ‘Sacred Heart Messenger’. Over the next few years, his publishing operation would grow and it’s spread would reach far and wide. He also travelled to the Far East, where he founded monasteries and began work on localised versions of his magazine, before returning to Poland and starting work on a new radio station.

By this point, all the pieces were in place for what would be the outstanding event of his life. His work had been entirely dedicated to the Immaculate Mother of God and he was using every means at his disposal to bring souls to Her, so that She might lead them to Her Son. He even founded a ‘City of the Immaculate’, called Niepokalanow. He knew perfectly well that the Blessed Virgin is the one most able to lift souls to the heights of sanctity and to bring them closest to Her Divine Son, and his part in all this was to lead those should to Her.

Through the printed media, through radio, by travelling – everything was for Her. He had already given everything – but soon, he would be asked to complete the sacrifice.

The Second World War was underway and Maximilian had remained at the monastery, using it as a hospital to treat the sick and wounded; he also sheltered many refugees including many Jewish people, whose lives were in terrible danger because of the atrocities of the Nazi regime. It was perhaps not surprising that in February 1941, the Nazis closed the monastery and arrested Maximilian and his confreres, sending them first to a local prison before having them transferred to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where he would spend the remaining two and a half months of his life.

In the camp, he continued his priestly role – and particularly by hearing the confessions of the prisoners, many of who would shortly face death one way or another. It is also said that he made Rosaries for the prisoners, using bread dough on pieces of string.

Visiting Auschwitz, Pope Francis prays in the cell where St Maximilian Kolbe died.

Toward the end of July, there had been a successful escape from the camp; in response to this, the deputy camp commander chose ten other prisoners who would be sent to the bunker and left there to starve to death. Amongst the ten was a man named Franciszek Gajowniczek, a sergeant in the Polish army who had been caught and sent to Auschwitz the previous October. Hearing his name called out, Gajowniczek broke down, calling out the names of his family, whom he feared he would never see again. Watching and listening, Maximilian instantly stepped forward and spoke directly the deputy camp commander – 

“I am a Catholic priest from Poland; I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children”.

Although astonished, the switch was permitted and Gajowniczek stepped back. The chosen ten were taken away.

Staff alter reported that in that bunker, Maximilian remained serene, leading his companions in prayer and encouraging them to trust in God and the Blessed Virgin. After two weeks starvation, only Maximilian remained alive and so the gfirard injected him with carbolic acid, and this ended his life. The date was 14 August 1941. He was cremated the following day – the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.

Maximilian Kolbe was raised to the honours of the Altar and declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II, a fellow Pole, on 10 October 1982 – at the same time, he was unofficially declared a ‘Martyr of Charity’ – having given his life freely, as an actor charity. He had already been declared a ‘Confessor’ when beatified by Pope Paul VI eleven years earlier.

Maximilian composed a beautiful prayer of consecration to Mary Immaculate, and it is reproduced here –

O Immaculata, Queen of Heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and our most loving Mother, God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to You.

I, (name), a repentant sinner, cast myself at Your feet, humbly imploring You to take me with all that I am and have, wholly to Yourself as Your possession and property. Please make of me, of all my powers of soul and body, of my whole life, death and eternity, whatever most pleases You.

If it pleases You, use all that I am and have without reserve, wholly to accomplish what was said of You: “She will crush your head,” and “You alone have destroyed all heresies in the whole world.” Let me be a fit instrument in Your immaculate and merciful hands for introducing and increasing Your glory to the maximum in all the many strayed and indifferent souls, and thus help extend as far as possible the blessed kingdom of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

For wherever You enter, You obtain the grace of conversion and growth in holiness, since it is through Your hands that all graces come to us from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

V. Allow me to praise You, O Sacred Virgin.

R. Give me strength against Your enemies.



Offering It Up

Offering It Up

“I cannot promise you happiness in this world – only in the next.”

– Our Lady of Lourdes to Saint Bernadette

One of the common features we see in the lives of the Saints is the presence of suffering – often physical in nature, but also taking the form of opposition or of moral suffering of one kind or another. But while the world proposes to us that all suffering is evil – indeed, sometimes using the very presence of suffering to question the existence of God or of His love for us – still our Faith shows suffering in a quite different light.

For the Saints, suffering was not an end in itself, something that is ultimately dead and worthless; rather, suffering was a means to an end, an opportunity of sorts. It was a means of uniting to the Crucified, so that this personal suffering could become redemptive in and with Him.

St Bernadette realised clearly that she was asked to embrace the Cross of her Lord.

At Lourdes, the Immaculate Virgin told Her little protégè, Bernadette – “I cannot promise you happiness in this world, only in the next”. And later, St Bernadette, in the convent at Nevers, offered her physical sufferings, particularly from a tubercular tumour on her knee. She also suffered the disbelief of many, together with being sought out constantly as something of a curiosity. St John Macias slept only three hours each night, wore a hair shirt and an iron chain bound tightly around his waist. Venerable Matt Talbot wore a similar chain around his waist, discovered only on the day of his death, although it had been there for many years. The lives of so many other Saints reveals a similar attitude toward mortification and the embrace of suffering.

For these great Saints, there was no doubt a particular grace given to them to approach suffering in this way, and to bear it heroically and without it presenting any danger to their spiritual advancement. For most of us, that is a grace we might not be given and we may not be called to suffer in quite the same way or to the same degree.

Be that as it may, every single one of us will encounter suffering in one way or another. And so, when suffering comes our way, what are we to do with it?

The answer is that we are asked to do precisely what the Saints did with it – to bear it well, with patience and fortitude, for as long as it lasts. Not so many years ago, there was an expression which encapsulated the thinking perfectly – we are to “offer it up”.

Looking at the message of Fatima, this sense of ‘offering it up’ is clearly present throughout – from the appearances of the Angel in 1916, to the deaths of Saint Francisco and then Saint Jacinta. When the Angel visited the children the year before the appearances of the Mother of God, he told them –

Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners

Responding to this appeal, the children began to pray for long hours and to practice charity towards others – they would give away their food to poor children, leaving themselves hungry and without water for the whole day, despite the burning heat of the Portugese sun.

The following year, the Blessed Virgin would echo this call of the Angel, telling the children in July 1917 –

“Sacrifice yourselves for sinners and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice, ‘O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary’”.

A month later, She added detail to the reason why they were being asked to suffer so –

“Pray, pray very much and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to Hell because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”

The children – aged 7, 9 and 10 – were already wearing a piece of knotted rope bound tightly around their waists, both day and night; this rope caused them to suffer so much that they were unable to sleep. And so in September, the beautiful Lady from Heaven told them –

“God is pleased with your sacrifices. He does not want you to sleep with the rope on, but only to wear it during the daytime.”

Clearly, then, this suffering was acceptable to God and had some meritorious value in His eyes and it achieved something worthwhile – grace for the conversion of sinners.

We tend to focus on the present moment, as though it were all that mattered and as if nothing existed  beyond or outwith this moment. We often go out of our way to avoid suffering in any form – a human and very understandable response, certainly. But the lives of these children suggest there is another way.

For us who walk the common path of humanity, we are perhaps not called to undertake freely-chosen mortifications of the sort described here – but we are very clearly called to embrace suffering patiently and to offer it in union with Christ Crucified, so that in our own personal way (whether small or large), we can join Him in the work of Redemption. We do something of the sort each Lent – our little personal mortifications (avoiding chocolate or biscuits, for example) have the very same intention as that of the Saints mentioned here.

Items belonging to Venerable Matt Talbot, including the iron chain he wore (left).

If you find the idea of embracing suffering to be repugnant – that is good. Mortification should always be contrary to our will, or else it becomes like salt that has lost its flavour – and worse, it risks leading us into spiritual pride, which is deadly. Rather, our mortifications should increase our humility and our love of God, never our love of self.

For this reason, it is generally best to avoid actively choosing the greater mortifications, those involving chains and ropes and so forth, unless the Lord has made His divine will in this matter very clear – and even then, we should always be guided by prudence, by obedience and by a holy spiritual director.

A better option is to joyfully and willingly embrace those sufferings which life presents to us without our having to actively choose them. We can freely choose the lesser mortifications which are available to us on a daily basis and which can go entirely unnoticed by the world. There will be plenty of these, regardless of our state in life.

The most obvious is the willing acceptance of our place in life and our daily duty with all it entails. Another is obedience to those in lawful authority over us. Yet another are the little choices we are able to make, each one an opportunity to thwart our passions, our ego and our self-love. For someone with a sweet tooth, this might take the form of avoiding sugar in coffee; or it might consist of washing the dishes for a spouse when we really would prefer to watch television. Perhaps this sort of common and very ordinary mortification is what the Angel of Fatima was referring to when he said “make of everything you can a sacrifice”.

But remember – for it to have value before the Lord, it needs to be hidden from the eyes of the world and undertaken purely out of love for the Lord and for souls. Jacinta and Francisco told not a soul about that rope belt – indeed, little Francisco was desperate to keep it hidden, to the extent that the day before his death, he gave it to his cousin Lucia and asked her to burn it before anyone saw it.

These little acts of mortification of the will and the senses, done consistently every day in a humble and hidden manner, can become like little stepping stones along the path of true sanctity.

Perhaps our parents and grandparents had an inkling of some of this on those occasions when suffering came our way and they suggested to us that we ‘offer it up’.


Centenary – St Jacinta of Fatima

Centenary – St Jacinta of Fatima

“Tell everybody that Gods grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask Her for them; and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side. Tell them also to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace, since God has entrusted it to Her. If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much!”

Over the last few centuries there have been several great Saints who can be accurately called ‘Apostles of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’  – such as the great Saint John Eudes. One in particular, however, stands out for a number of reasons – she was very young in years (though greatly advanced in wisdom); she lived in a deep spirit of reparative suffering, and her sanctity was profound in it’s depth. One hundred years ago today, that child died; her name was Jacinta Marto.

Jacinta was born on 11 March 1910. She was one of the three children who saw the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima; the other two were her brother, Francisco Marto, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos. Each of the three had a particular role following the appearances of Our Blessed Lady. Lucia was to be the emissary or messenger – she would faithfully transmit the message given by the Lady from Heaven. Francisco would spend long hours before the Tabernacle, adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and making reparation for those who leave Him abandoned there. Jacinta’s function was to make reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on behalf of sinners, by means of prayer and deep suffering.

Writing in her first Memoir, Sister Lucia described the character of her little cousin. She wrote that from the first appearance of Our Lady, Jacinta was particularly impressed by the thought of making reparation for sinners; she would reflect at length on the reality of Hell and it’s eternal nature. Even in the middle of a game, Jacinta would stop and reflect on the eternal fate of sinners – “Poor sinners, we have to pray and make many sacrifices for them!”. Lucia explained that Jacinta never let any opportunity be lost in offering sacrifices for sinners – from giving away lunch to poor children, to taking no water all day long, despite the intense heat of the Portuguese summer sun.

Another intention very dear to the heart of Jacinta was that of the Holy Father, the Pope.  Her love for him was such that at the end of every sacrifice for sinners, she would add – “and for the Holy Father”.

Jacinta always prayed for the intentions given to her by others. One such person touched her deeply – a soldier who had received order to go to the war front, leaving behind a sick wife and three young children. Meeting Jacinta, he cried piteously and asked her prayers that ether his order would be changed or his wife would be healed. Jacinta told him – “Don’t cry. Our Lady is so good! She will certainly grant you the grace you are asking”. Some months later, the soldier came to see Jacinta again – he told her that the day before his departure, he had been struck down with a fever and his orders were cancelled. Also, his wife was cured as he had prayed. Jacinta never forgot her soldier and at the end of every Rosary thereafter, she always added one extra Hail Mary for his intentions.

From the beginning of the Appearances of the Blessed Virgin, Jacinta and Francisco had stated quite openly that the Lady had promised She would take them to Heaven ‘soon’. They were delighted at this, needless to say. Perhaps, then, it was of little surprise that the health of the two younger children quickly began to fail – first, Francisco, and then Jacinta. Both would soon be dead, as the Lady had predicted.

After the public appearances at the Cova da Iria had concluded, Jacinta and Francisco were privileged to be visited by the Blessed Virgin on a number of occasions. After one of these, Jacinta told Lucia –

“Our Lady came to see us. She told us She would come to take Francisco to Heaven very soon, and She asked me if I still wanted to convert more sinners. I said I did. She told me I would be going to a hospital where I would suffer a great deal; and that I am to suffer for the conversion of sinners, in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for love of Jesus.”

In the company of her aunt, Lucia was able to visit her cousin in the hospital at Ourém. Alone in the hospital room, Lucia asked Jacinta if she was suffering a great deal. The little one replied – “Yes, I am. But I offer everything for sinners and in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. Speaking of the Lord and His Mother, Jacinta went on –

“Oh, how much I love to suffer for love of Them, just to give Them pleasure! They greatly love those who suffer for the conversion of sinners”.

Lucia was able to visit Jacinta once more in the hospital and this is what she said to describe that visit –

“I found Jacinta as joyful as ever, glad to suffer for the love of our Good God and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for sinners and for the Holy Father. That was her ideal, and she could speak of nothing else.”

Jacinta was able to return home from the hospital for a while, with a large open wound in her chest which had to be dressed every day. There, the Blessed Virgin visited her again. She told Lucia what Our Lady had said –

“She told me that I am going to Lisbon, to another hospital; that I will not see you again, nor my parents either; and after suffering a great deal, I shall die alone. But She said I must not be afraid, since She Herself is coming to take me to Heaven.”

Before leaving for the hospital in Lisbon, Jacinta continued to suffer greatly – and especially at the thought of never seeing her cousin and her family again, and of dying alone. Lucia told her not to think about all this but Jacinta replied –

“Let me think about it, for the more I think, the more I suffer, and I want to suffer for love of Our Lord and for sinners. Anyway, I don’t mind. Our Lady will come to me there and take me to Heaven.”

Kissing a Crucifix, Jacinta would exclaim –

“O my Jesus! I love You and I want to suffer very much for love of You.. now, You can convert many sinners, for this is a very big sacrifice.”

As he had became more ill, Jacinta’s brother, Francisco, would spend all his time not at school – he said there was no point – but in the Chapel, close to the Tabernacle, praying in order to console Jesus, so often left there alone and abandoned. Francisco died in April 1919, of the Spanish influenza which was sweeping the world at that time. Jacinta missed her brother terribly after his death and Lucia would often find her weeping and, when asked what was she was thinking about, the child would reply – “Of Francisco. I would give anything to see him again.”

Dying alone was the greatest fear of the child but still she accepted this as another means of offering sacrifices on behalf of poor sinners. She had endured an operation to remove two ribs and drain the pleural cavity, which was badly infected – this being done with only local anaesthesia because her little heart would not have withstood general anaesthesia. She accepted the operations even though she told the doctors it would make no difference as she would die regardless. She never complained once. The day before her death, Jacinta asked the hospital Chaplain to bring her Holy Communion in Viaticum, stating she would be dead ‘the next day’. The Priest told her she was not that ill. He was wrong.

Jacinta died of the same influenza which had taken her brother. She died on 20 February 1920, at the tender age of 9 years – she died in hospital and alone, as the Lady had foretold. The Lady had been right – She had promised to take these two to Heaven ‘soon’. At the start of the Appearances, the light of God shown to the children depicted the two little ones ascending to Heaven, while Lucia was in the light being poured out upon the earth – she would remain ‘some time longer’, as the Lady of the Rosary had said. And in those years that followed, Lucia would write much about her little cousin, Jacinta.

The body of little Jacinta was exhumed in 1935, at which time her face was incorrupt; at a second exhumation in 1951 in preparation for the transfer of her remains to the Basilica at Fatima, she had begun to decompose.

In 1937, Pope Pius XI had determined that the causes for the canonisations of children should not proceed – except in the case of martyrs – as he thought they were not able to understand or practice virtue to an heroic degree. Naturally, this impeded the causes of canonisation of both Jacinta and Francisco. However, in the late 1970s, the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima wrote to all the Bishops of the world, asking them to petition the Holy Father to make an exception to this rule in favour of Jacinta and Francisco; around three hundred Bishops did just that, noting the clear example of their lives and also the favours received through their intercession. In 1979 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints met in a general assembly, to determine if it was possible for young children to live lives of heroic virtue. They determined it was indeed possible. Ten years later, Pope John Paul II declared the two siblings ‘Venerable’. On 13 May 2000, at Mass in the Cova da Iria, Jacinta and Francisco were declared ‘Blessed’ – also on that day, the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima was revealed by the Holy See, at the express instruction of the Pope.

Finally, on 13 May 2017, exactly one hundred years to the day after the first appearance of the Lady of the Rosary to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, the little brother and sister were declared Saints of the Roman Catholic Church by the Holy Father, Pope Francis – and at the very spot where the ‘Lady from Heaven’ had appeared. Jacinta is the youngest child ever to have been canonised without having died a martyr.

Sanctity is not something we earn or achieve; rather, it a is a grace given by God to whom He wills and in the degree He wills. And in the case of Saint Jacinta Marto, it is a grace that was given most abundantly. The charism of the holiness of this little, but very great, Saint is prayer and suffering offered reparatively on behalf of sinners, for love of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; it is a charism all of us would do well to emulate. If such a life and such grace are possible in the short life of one so very young, then it is possible for every one of us. And in this quest, may we be assisted greatly by the prayers of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and of Her little confidante, Saint Jacinta Marto.

Saint Jacinta Marto, little daughter and great apostle of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.

Our Friends The Saints

Our Friends The Saints

“The memory of the Saints leads us to raise our eyes to Heaven: not to forget the realities of the earth, but to face them with more courage and hope.”

– Pope Francis, Feast of All Saints – 1st November 2019

It is probable that most Catholics have at least one ‘favourite’ Saint. For whatever reason, a particular Saint appeals to us – possibly because of something they did, how they lived, what they are remembered for, or some other similar reason.

Personally, I have a small collection of favourites who have been there with me for a long time now – each one is dear to me for a particular reason, but the reasons are different for each of them.

First of all, there is Saint Bernadette Soubirous, who saw Our Lady at Lourdes. She was the first Saint I ever knew anything about, as I had an aunt who visited Lourdes on several occasions. There was a little picture of Bernadette in our home ever since my childhood and so it was inevitable she and I would become friends. Much later on, I had the pleasure of visiting Bernadette at her convent in Nevers, France, where I had the privilege to stay for several days with the Sisters on a couple of occasions. This allowed me the opportunity to spend time alone with Bernadette’s relics in the Chapel, and this is a memory I cherish. Bernadette appeals to me because of her simplicity and her devotion to the message of the Gospel, echoed in her experiences at the Grotto and later in her religious life at Nevers. She has also been a very good and trusted friend as the years have passed.

After Bernadette, come three children – brother and sister, Saint Jacinta Marto and Saint Francisco Marto, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, who would go on to become a Carmelite nun, before her death in 2005. These three children saw Our Lady at Fatima. I came to learn of them – and of the appearances of Our Lady of Fatima – thanks to a bookstall at school many years ago, when I was about fifteen. I had never heard of Fatima until that point. I bought a copy of Lucia’s memoirs and was absolutely fascinated; not only by her account of the appearances, but by the lives of deep holiness which the children lived out, day after day. These children were greatly devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whom they had the privilege to see. Their lives are proof that not only is the call to holiness truly universal, but it is also universally attainable – if only we will work at it day after day.

Next, there is Saint Faustina Kowalska, through whom we were given the Divine Mercy devotion. Out of the blue, Faustina made it her business to make her presence felt quite forcefully in my life, and she has remained in it ever since. She appeals to me because of her tenacity and her faithfulness to the mission entrusted to her, despite every obstacle that came in her path – and every one of which she overcame.

A Pope makes it onto my list – Saint John Paul II. He is the only Saint I have had the privilege to actually see whilst he was alive. He was deeply devoted to the Mother of God, and he was a Pope who placed a great emphasis on Fatima and it’s message, mentioning it often. He is also the Pope who brought the Divine Mercy devotion out of the shadows, placing it firmly in the light of the Church; he would later canonise St Faustina and give the Church the Feast of Divine Mercy. He was a truly good and holy man and I remember how sad I was that Saurday night when we lost him, as he had been with us for so very long. I did not doubt that he was a living Saint.

John Paul took his motto – ‘Totus Tuus’ (‘All Yours’) – from the writings of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, who wrote the ‘Treatise On The True Devotion’, and ‘The Secret Of The Rosary’. Saint Louis is on my list also, needless to say. He is the great Marian scholar-Saint, living out the very thing he gives to us in his writings. I read his Treatise when I was about sixteen and it changed my life entirely, and continues to do so. Interestingly, Saint John Paul said much the same about the effect of this book on his own life – which is why he chose that particular motto.

A great favourite for many, many people is next on my list – Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. This ‘little’ Saint achieved a huge amount of good for souls – not because of what she did, but because of how she did it; that is, with great love. Obedience and love achieve great things in the order of grace as well as in the order of nature, and Thérèse is proof of this. A sign of her universal popularity is the ubiquity of statues in her likeness, found in almost every Catholic Church. And that popularity persists, if the vast numbers of people who thronged to honour her Relics here in Scotland recently, is anything to go by.

Nearing the end of this brief list is another personal favourite, although he is much less well-known (in this part of the world, at least) compared to all the others – Saint John Macias. John was a Dominican lay brother in Peru, where he died in 1645. Greatly devoted to the Lord and to the Mother of God, this love was reflected in his gentleness and in his intense love for the poor. He spared no efforts in making sure those near his monastery were fed every single day and he treated them with deep, deep kindness and reverence, as though each one was the Lord. Not surprisingly, the miracle that led to his canonisation was not unlike a certain other miracle, mentioned in the Gospel, concerning the miraculous feeding of a great many people. I admire John’s simple and deep faith and his intense life of prayer, this being the foundation of all else that he did.

Last but not least there is a man on my list who is not yet a canonised Saint – but I hope this will change one day. However, his Cause for canonisation is presently before Rome and he has been declared ‘Venerable’. His name is Matt Talbot. Although often associated with alchololism and recovery from it, this is not what attracts me to Matt; rather, it is his hidden life of deep and intense prayer, which developed and deepened after his recovery. Matt, like the others on my list, proves that all people have the capacity for true sanctity, if only we would comply with the grace of God and exercise the will to work towards becoming holy. Matt did precisely this; and in researching his life story, I am in no doubt that he posessed true and very deep sanctity. I pray for his eventual canonisation.

So this is a brief run-down of some of my favourite Saints, along with my reasons for listing them.

But what about you who read my list – who are your personal favourites, and why?


The Gifts of the Saints

The Gifts of the Saints

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

– Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

One of the great treasures of the Catholic Church are our Saints. These luminous figures who are now in eternal glory in the presence of God, oobtain for us a little bit of that heavenly light to encourage and console us in life.

Each Saint is unique; while the broad message they propose to us is the same – for it is nothing more than the echo of the Gospel itself – still they do so in a way that is particular to each of them. And because of this, each of us will be attracted to particular Saints, who resonate with us in some deeper way.

Presently, our Diocese is being visited by the Relics of the Little Flower, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Already, she is drawing a great many souls to – or back to -the Lord.  And this is quite astonishing; hidden away in a cloistered Carmelite convent in France for nine years before her death at the age of 24, how is it that we even know of her existence?

It is said that as she lay dying, she heard two of the Sisters, who had been charged with writing an obituary, saying they knew not what they would write, since she hadn’t actually done anything of note. And of course, they were right – she had done no great deeds, only a myriad of very little deeds in the humdrum of convent life. But this was to miss the point entirely – it was not about what she had done, but the way in which she had done them. And herein lay her secret, which she would call her ‘Little Way’. Little deeds, done with great love. It really was as simple as that.

This ‘Little Way’ is the very thing that attracted countless souls to her – for this was within the reach of all and appealed very much to all of us who live small, seemingly insignificant, quiet and hidden lives. We could, like Thérèse, do little deeds with great love. And this is her gift to us. That, and the shower of heavenly favours she promised to let fall like roses from Heaven – and how many have received such a rose!

Over the next few weeks, the Catholics of Scotland will gather beside her reliquary, pay her honour and ask for her heavenly intercession. While some of these prayers may well result in extraordinary graces, it is likely that most will result in smaller – but not insignificant – graces, the sort which enable us to live the good life just a little bit better than before, to follow her footsteps on the path of that Little Way and so, to help sanctify us. And this is precisely the purpose of the Saints – to remind us that the call to sanctity is for every soul without exception; and if we are called to holiness, then it is possible for us to become holy.

After all, if a young nun living a hidden life in a French convent can be holy, then there is hope for us all.


Apostle of the Two Hearts

Apostle of the Two Hearts

“You must never separate what God has so perfectly united. So closely are Jesus and Mary bound up with each other that whoever beholds Jesus sees Mary; whoever loves Jesus, loves Mary; whoever has devotion to Jesus, has devotion to Mary.”

– St John Eudes

(Statue depicting Saint John Eudes in the central nave of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome)

In her writings and memoirs, Sister Lucia of Fatima records that in the years following the ‘public’ appearances of Our Lady at Fatima, she received a number of further messages and revelations. Amongst these was one in 1932, during which the Lord Jesus told her that He wished the Church “to place devotion to this Immaculate Heart alongside devotion to My Sacred Heart”

This was not, in fact, a new call – as far back as the middle of the Seventeenth Century, one man had been making precisely the same request, with varied degrees of success. That man was Father John Eudes, a French Priest who would later be declared a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925; and since then, there have been calls to have Saint John Eudes declared a Doctor of the Church. Indeed, in 2017, a dossier compiled by the Eudists and supported by the Episcopal Conferences of seven different nations, was given to our Holy Father Pope Francis.

Father Eudes was initially a Priest of the Congregation of the Oratory of Jesus and Mary Immaculate – the Oratorians– who were founded by Cardinal de Bérulle and influential in the French Schoolof spirituality. He preached numerous missions and tended to the victims of plague. Father Olier, founder of the Sulpicians, later called him “the prodigy of his age”. Father Eudes was very concerned at the need for spiritual improvement for Priests, because of which he founded a number of seminaries, where future Priests could be appropriately trained. He also founded a number of confraternities in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, receiving Papal recognition and blessing in the process.

As his work progressed, he saw a need to work with prostitutes and so in 1641, he founded a religious congregation called the Order of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, receiving diocesan approval and, finally, Papal approval in 1666.

In 1643, Father Eudes left the Oratorians and established the Congregation of Jesus and Mary – not a religious order but a ‘society of apostolic life’– later to become known as the Eudists, whose principal works are giving missions and the training of Priests.

His spirituality was greatly influenced by the French school, by the writings of St Francis de Sales, and by the revelations given to St Gertrude and St Mechtilde by the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  This devotion to the Sacred Heart was, at that time, very much a private devotion; Father Eudes wanted it to become an established part of the Church as a whole. To this end, he wrote several Masses in honour of the Sacred Heart, and these were eventually accepted and became widely known. It was for this reason that proclaiming his heroic virtue in 1903 as part of the process leading to canonisation, Pope St Leo XIII called him the“author of the liturgical worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the holy Heart of Mary”.

At his beatification in 1908, Pope Pius X said –

“But his services to the Church received a vast increase when, burning with a singular love for the most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, he was the first to think, not without some divine inspiration, of offering to Them liturgical worship.”

During the course of his life, Father Eudes wrote widely on devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary and his view was always that these two devotions were essentially one, and should always be together. His book, ‘The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God’, was the first work to address this. Hias written works gained some prominence during his life and much more afterwards, leading Cardinal Vives to note –

“I was acquainted with the Doctors of the Order of Saint Francis; I was acquainted with Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, the mystical writers of my own country, Spain; but I was completely ignorant of the writings of Father Eudes. As a member of the Sacred Congregation of Rites it was my duty to study his life and his works, and I am in admiration. Blessed John Eudes must be ranked with the great lights of the Church. His spiritual doctrine is profound and of wonderful exactitude. He is one of the writers who has best propounded the doctrine of the Gospel.”

In 1930, an anonymous Oblate of Mary Immacualte wrote a short book entitled ‘Devotion to the Immculate Heart of Mary’, in which there is this –

“It was reserved for Saint John Eudes to be the apostle and chief organiser of this special devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We must remark here, however, that in this holy man’s mind, the two Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary were ever inseparable. For almost thirty years before the revelations of Saint Margaret Mary took place, Saint John had been an apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By word and work, he had laboured to spread that devotion throughout the Church of France..

As, in the divine plan, Mary prepares the way for Jesus, so also in the Church of God, devotion to the Heart of Mary prepared the way for devotion to the Sacred Heart. In Saint John’s view, the ultimate object of all devotion and love is the adorable Heart of our Saviour, but, the best means of attaining that object is the Immaculate Heart of His Mother. Wherefore, he first set to work to preach and organise devotion to the Heart of Mary. And of that devotion he is the apostle par excellence, for when he began in 1641 it was scarcely known, but when he died (1680), it existed in a flourishing condition in most of the dioceses of France.”

The feast of Saint John Eudes is celebrated today, 19th August.

Saint John Eudes, apostle of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, pray for us.