My Favorite Saints: Saint Paul

Note: I am now continuing my Saint of the Month series, however it will not always be monthly. For this reason, I am now calling it My Favorite Saints instead.

The Acts of the Apostles introduces an apostle who was once an enemy of the Christians.  We know him today as St. Paul.

St. Paul was originally named Saul of Tarsus.  Under this name, he was present when the church’s first official martyr, St. Stephen, was stoned to death.  This incident inspired him to persecute anyone who followed the Way (which is what Christianity was called at the time. ) Yet, Jesus sought after him and confronted him (Acts 9:1-9), blinding him in the process. He eventually converted after being assisted by a member of the apostles’ community, and earned a new name, Paul.

When a biblical figure changes status, there is often a change in name as well.  Abram became Abraham after he decided to follow God, and his wife Sara became Sarah as well.  In the new testament, Simon became St. Peter when Jesus gave him the new position as the leader of the apostles prior to his crucifixion.  This also made him the first pope.

I think what I really like about St. Paul is his eloquent approach to evangelism.  What follows are some of my favorite quotes from his epistles.

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophesy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes in all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tounges, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13)

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:10)

and finally:

I died to the law so that I might live for God. (Galatians 2:19)

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Saint of the Month: John Vianney

Born: May 8, 1746

Died: August 4, 1859

Patron: Parish Priests

Info: Vianney was a shepherd’s son and began studying to be a priest in his  20’s. He was drafted into the army in 1809, but deserters, allowing him to come home. The next year, Napoleon granted amnesty to all deserters, allowing him to come home.  In 1813-1818, he began his service as a curate to Abbe Balley at Eully. The next year, he was appointed to Ars, where he stayed till he died. He had a remarkable reputation as a spiritual director and confessor, often spending 16-18 hours a day in the booth. He was canonized in 1925.

Reflection: Catholics are often criticized even today for confessing their sins to a priest.  But confession is actually biblical. When Jesus gave Peter the authority to bind and loose, that included the forgiveness of sins.  It is a sacrament that is unfortunately taken much too lightly in this age. Yes our sins are forgiven, but God cannot do so without our consent.  It is advised that you confess your sins at least once a year (I go twice, once in Advent and then during Lent). I can attest that it certainly is therapeutic, because I certainly feel relief when I am done with my penance.  In fact, my priest actually has his confessions scheduled an hour before Mass. Good thing, because if you do not confess your sins, you are not advised to take communion. To do so without confessing sins is a form of blasphemy.  (We do have the Penitential rite, but that only covers venial sins)

Vianney is a symbol of the need to recognize our sinful nature.  We must take care not to take this lightly because it puts strain on our relationship with Christ and we may condemn ourselves by this neglect.

 

 

Saint of the Month: Ignatius Loyola

Birth: 1491

Death: 1556

Feast Day: July 31

Patron: Spiritual Retreats and Exercises

Info: Ignatius was born in Spain to a noble family and was the youngest of thirteen children.  He joined the military. It was while recovering from a leg wound that he read the Bible and became impressed not only by Jesus, but those who followed Him.

There are two things that Ignatius Loyola is known for. One is founding the Jesuits order in 1534 at the age of 45.  Other founding members included St. Francis Xavier and Peter Favre. The Jesuits (also known as the Society of Jesus) did not adopt their name until 1537, when Loyola became ordained as a priest.  It was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540. The Jesuits are now a worldwide organization.

His second noteworthy item was his writing of Spiritual Exercises, which he wrote while on retreat most likely in the year 1522 or 1523. These Exercises are practiced by meditating on sacred mysteries. These exercises are still practiced today by priests and those on retreats.

Saint of the Month: Maximilian Kolbe


Born: January 8, 1894
Death: August 14, 1941

One of the many myths perpetuated about Catholics is that  back in WWII, we did little to nothing to stop Hitler.  In reality, the opposite is true. The pope at the time declared many churches as sanctuary for Jews hiding from Nazis and spoke out against them.  This caused the Nazis to place them in concentration camps as well.  One Catholic who certainly did oppose the Nazi regime was Maximilian Kolbe.

Kolbe was born in Russian Poland. In 1920, he reopened a Polish friary and started a Marian press.  Despite being diagnosed with tuberculosis, he had successful missions in Japan and India before returning to Poland in 1936, three years before the Nazi invasion.  He eventually was captured and sent to Auschwitz. He took the place of a man condemned for execution, causing him to become a martyr.

I feel that Kolbe can be an inspiration.  In today’s world, Christians are still being persecuted for their beliefs. We must oppose tyranny in all its forms.

Saint of the Month: St Therese of Lisieux

Born: Jan 2, 1873

Death: Sep 30, 1897

Patron: France

Symbol: Roses entwining a crucifix

Feast Date: October 1

Therese was the youngest of nine children.  Her mother died when she was five, causing her to be raised by her older sisters and her aunt. When two of her sisters became Carmelite nuns, she decided she must be a nun as well.  But when she first attempted to gain admission, she was refused.  That is, until a year later when she got some help. But by that time, she had contracted tuberculosis.  However, she resolved to live the rest of her life for God.  At the encouragement of her superiors, she wrote her autobiography, The Story of  A Soul. (I highly recommend this book)

What I find most interesting is what happened in her twilight years years.  The disease had taken its toll not only on her body, but also her psyche and she began to doubt God’s existence.  But she persevered and realized God wanted her to see the darkness within those who who don’t believe in God. She fought against her despair and prayed for those who did not believe.  I also find it fascinating that she believed that serving God did not mean you had to go out and change the world (although she did wish to go to India. When Mother Theresa of Calcutta chose her profession, she had read Therese’s autobiography, and this inspired her to go to India) In the words of her autobiography, you could “do small things with big love.” She believed herself to be a little flower in God’s field, which is why we Catholics call her the “Little Flower of Jesus.”  Through her, I have learned that even my small tasks of kindness can be a testament to God.

 

 

 

Joan of Arc

Born: Jan 6, 1412

Death: May 30, 1431

Patron: France (along with St. Therese of Lisieux). She is also known as the Maid of Orleans.

Joan of Arc is one of the most compelling saints. I know a few Catholics (and one non-Christian) who consider her an admirable figure in history.

She was the youngest of five children in a peasant family. When she was twelve years old, she had her first vision.  It was eventually revealed to her that she would aid the Dauphin and save France. She was laughed at by Robert de Baudicort, the commander of Vaucoulers. But when her prophecies came true, she was sent to the Dauphin. After a n examination cleared her of heresy, she was allowed to lead an expedition to relieve Orleans.  She had two  victories and on July 17, Joan was present at the crowning of Charles VII. She failed to capture Paris the next month and was captured sold to Britain.  This resulted in her trial for charges of heresy and witchcraft.  She was eventually burned at the stake.  But in 1456, she was declared innocent by Pope Callistus III and canonized in 1920.

To me, Joan is a compelling figure because of her unwavering faith and duty to God and her country.  She didn’t care if people believed her.  She didn’t care that she would be deemed a heretic.  Some might see the declaration of heresy as proof of the “error of religion”, as she was not believed, but think about it: would you believe her? If she told you “I had a vision that I would save France”, wouldn’t you scoff too?  She knew what God wanted of her.  We have to stand up for what we believe in, even when others think it is wrong.  That is what Joan of Arc means to me, not the crime that was committed against her.

Saint of the Month: Virgin Mary

Birth/Death: Unknown

Feast: January 1

Patron Of: US (Immaculate Conception), France (Our Lady of Assumption), Portugal (Our Lady of Fatima), Argentina (Our Lady of Lugan), Australia (Our Lady Help of Christians), Brazil (Immaculate Conception), Chile (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel), Corsica (Immaculate Conception), Dominican Republic (Our Lady of High Grace), Mexico (Our Lady of Guadalupe), Paraguay, Phillipines, Slovokia, and South Africa.

Info: The Virgin Mary is probably one of the most celebrated women in the Bible. According to tradition, her parents were named Joachim and Anne.

It is believed that Mary was probably 15 years when Gabriel informed her that she would become the mother of Jesus.  As a Catholic I was taught that, like Jesus, she too was immaculately conceived. Some of you may wonder why the Perpetual Virginity is included in the doctrine.  Pope John Paul II gave an excellent analogy.  In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was so holy, that you could not even touch it.  Because Mary is the New Ark (meaning Jesus was in her womb), Joseph did not wish to touch her.  She was far too perfect. In fact, one of Mary’s many titles is Theotokos, which means “God-bearer” in Greek.

As a Catholic, I was taught that Mary was more than the Mother of God, she is also the church’s “spiritual mother.”  (Catechism par. 963) We revere her as a person worthy of praise and respect for her obedience to God.  Although we pray special prayers to her, she is not  worshiped.  (Catechism par. 971) Honor is not the same as worship.  When we invoke her name, we are asking her to pray for us, much like if you were to ask me to pray for you.  It is not so much us praying to Mary, but with her.

For the longest time, I felt that Mary was unapproachable.  She was immaculately conceived. How could I, a sinner, even hope to be worthy of her aid?  But then I learned of her title as Our Lady of Sorrows.  This made me realize something I never considered, and I’m sure some of you haven’t either.  Even though Mary was not crucified with Jesus, she might as well have been.  She had to witness in emotional anguish as her own son, her flesh and blood–her God–was beaten, humiliated, and crucified.  She could do nothing to stop her.  Think how hard it was for her to watch!  I realized here was someone who could certainly help me.  She was still human, even though she never sinned.  She played a vital role in salvation as Jesus’s mother.  She suffered in the most horrible way any mother could.  How could I not accept her help?

I once dreamed about the birth of Jesus.  I dreamed I was there with my guardian angel as Mary brought forth the Christ Child.  She then passed Jesus around so everyone could hold Him.  When it came to my turn, I refused.  Surely, I, a sinner, was unworthy of even holding Jesus.  But my guardian angel told me, “That is the whole point, my child. No one is worthy of Jesus.” I realized the point of the vision. I am unworthy of God’s love and salvation, yet I am receiving it anyway.

In closing, I want to present my favorite prayer to the Virgin Mary, the Memorarae.  Often, when I recite this prayer, I imagine myself standing crestfallen before the Virgin. Then she smiles and asks me what I need and I feel my fears and guilt wash away.  All that remains is perfect love. Here it is:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.