Of course some might argue (and do argue) that all you need is Jesus. And that’s true: Jesus is everything, and the saints understood this more than anyone. But God in his wisdom has also given us these companions of Jesus to accompany us along the way, so why not accept the gift of their friendship and encouragement? ~ James Martin, SJ, My Life with the Saints
On November 1 we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. When we hear the word “saint” we often think of someone who is perfect. But how can we strive to be perfect? We sometimes forget that saints were human, and many of our favorites had qualities that are all too familiar – a wry sense of humor, a quick anger, or michevious streak. But in the end these humans put God first in their lives and overcame the human weaknesses of ordinary men and women to live extraordinary lives in service to God and others. It is through the example of such men and women that we can strive to become better people.
To celebrate All Saints Day, The Catholic Gene authors reveal their “favorite” saints:
All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
When I was nine years old, most of those in my fourth grade class, myself included, were confirmed in our local parish church. During our preparation for confirmation, we were instructed to select the name of a saint for a confirmation name. My parents directed me to a leather-bound, gilt-edged volume entitled “Lives of the Saints.” I had thumbed through this book many times before but, this time, I looked through the pages with a purpose. Throughout my life, I have felt a special connection with the natural world and, while looking through “Lives of the Saints”, I noticed that St. Francis of Assisi was depicted with birds on his shoulders and small animals crowded at his feet. Because of St. Francis’ relationship with the wild creatures of the earth, I decided to choose the name Francis as my confirmation name. I told my parents. My father’s eyes grew large and a grin spread across his face. I suddenly realized that I had unknowingly chosen my father’s own given name for my confirmation name! Years passed, I grew older, and my connection with nature increased. I studied Biology and Chemistry in college and worked as a camp counselor during the summers. Finally, I was offered my first real job in my chosen profession. The offer came from San Francisco, the city of St. Francis, and the place I have called home ever since. It’s small wonder that St. Francis of Assisi is my favorite saint! ~ Stephen Danko
Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile. ~ Eusebius on St. Helena in The Life of Constantine
Saint Helena of Constantinople is not necessarily my “favorite” saint, but I’ve decided to write about her since I chose my Helena as my confirmation name because I wanted to be different and select a name that was a little unusual. When I learned about St. Helena I found her back story quite interesting.
Saint Helena (Latin: Flavia Iulia Helena Augusta) is also known as Saint Helen, Helena Augusta or Helena of Constantinople. She was born about the middle of the third century, possibly in Drepanum (later known as Helenopolis) on the Nicomedian Gulf. Helena was the consort of Emperor Constantius, and is best known for being the mother of Emperor Constantine I.
One of our assignments for confirmation class was to learn something about the saint whose name we were choosing. In addition to being the mother of any emperor (I thought that was pretty cool), St. Helena is traditionally credited with finding the relics of the True Cross, (you’ll see her represented with these in various Christian iconography). She also had her image on a coin (also pretty cool). What I liked best about Helena is that she has been described as “a woman of humble extraction but remarkable character and unusual ability.”
Helena died ca. 330 and is recognized in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Lutheran Church and Anglican Communion. In the Roman Catholic Church, St. Helena’s feast day is celebrated on August 18th. There is a shrine to Saint Helena in St. Peter’s Basilica, and her patronages include: archaeologists, converts, difficult marriages, divorced people, empresses, and Saint Helena Island (selected as the place of exile for Napoleon Bonaparte). As an aside, I didn’t know it at the time but one of my great-grandmothers was named Helena, so perhaps it was more than just coincidence that I was drawn to this name and this saint. ~ Lisa Alzo
Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God. ~ St. Ignatius of Loyola
When I asked the authors to write a paragraph on their favorite saint, I was debating between two favorites, and neither was St. Ignatius of Loyola. But as I thought about my life with the saints, I realized he’s been watching over me far longer than I’ve known about him! In college, I chose the saying ad maiorem Dei gloriam for my yearbook motto: For the greater glory of God. I knew it was the motto of the Jesuits, and I might have known that the order was founded by St. Ignatius. But I never met a Jesuit in my sixteen years of Catholic education, so that fact didn’t mean much to me – I just liked the sentiment. Fast forward many years. A few years ago, I learned about St. Ignatius and what is called “Ignatian Spirituality” – and I felt like I found a new friend who thinks like I do. For the first time, I learned about a form of “imaginative prayer” taught by St. Ignatius in which you immerse yourself in the gospels using all of your senses. As a creative person, this form of prayer suits me just fine. I’ve since learned more about St. Ignatius’ life. Before his conversion, he was a vain ladies’ man, a soldier, and he even had a police record! After his conversion, he surrendered himself completely to God’s will. He still has a lot to teach me about prayer, but I’m glad I have a companion to help me learn what “to the greater glory of God” really means. ~ Donna Pointkouski
Begin now to be what you will be hereafter. ~ St. Jerome
As a blogger on Catholic Gene – you have got to love St. Jerome. I was first introduced to St. Jerome in the courtyard of the Church of the Nativity and Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem on the West Bank where his statue looms large. He is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. It was in Bethlehem that Jerome translated most the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin, and revised his translation of the Psalms using the Hebrew texts. He led a life of incessant activity in literary production He is the patron saint of archaeologists, archivists, biblical scholars, librarians, students, and translators. ~ Bernie Gracy
Some Pharisees were also sent. They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie. ~ John 1: 24-27
I haven’t gone about my daily life with a favorite saint in my pocket, but I do think that St. John the Baptist is a comfortable choice for a born and bred Baptist. In Sunday School we studied illustrations of a long-haired, bearded John baptizing converts in the river, running nearly naked through the desert, and eating bugs and honey. I feel more of a connection to St. John than, say, St. Theresa of Avila, patron saint of headache sufferers and Spanish Catholic Writers; or St. Thomas More, patron saint of court clerks. I do wish, however, that St. John had not been beheaded. So gruesome. ~ Denise Levenick
The devil strains every nerve to secure the souls which belong to Christ. We should not grudge our toil in wresting them from Satan and giving them back to God. ~ St. Sebastian
I would have to say that St Sebastian is my favorite saint. As a child growing up, I attended St Sebastian Catholic Church (Dearborn Heights, Michigan) with my family and I have many fond memories of that parish. St Sebastian is the saint that is often depicted as tied to a column and pierced with arrows. He was a soldier in the Roman army back in the third century and in spite of the multiple arrow wounds he suffered when he was ordered killed by his superiors (for being a Christian) he survived. This was quite a testament to his physical fitness and good health. It is for this reason that St Sebastian is the patron saint of soldiers and athletes. The next time you’re watching your favorite football team in action or a family member enters the military service, send up a prayer to St Sebastian! ~ Jasia
St Edmund the Martyr (841-869) was king of East Anglia in his 20s when the Danish attacked. He led his forces bravely in battle but was captured by the Great Danish Heathen Army. The Danes demanded that Edmund renounce his Christianity. He refused. The Danish commander then ordered him stripped and tied to a tree. In The Little Lives of the Saints (1904), the Rev. Percy Dearmer tells how Edmund died:
The [Danish] bows were bent, and the arrows flew through the air, first one and then another; and at each shot a roar of admiration went up. For the object of the bowmen was to see how many times they could touch their victim without killing him. The arrows stuck in him here and there as if at random, till his poor body looked like the body of a hedgehog; but never an arrow touched his head or his heart, or any mortal place.
Far away in the recesses of the forest the frightened peasants heard the shouts and cheers, and crept behind the trees, wondering what new woe had befallen. And their young king was dying alone, his one companion, Bishop Humbert watching him from the place where he too lay bound. Even the wild animals, whom Edmund had always loved, fled from the place, rabbits and wild cats scampering away together, and an old grey wolf slunk inoffensively by their side, crying Heugh! Heugh!
At last the Danes struck off Edmund’s head; and, seizing it in derision, they threw it far into the depths of the forest. The good bishop, who had once anointed that young head and laid the golden crown upon it, saw it now decked with the crown of martyrdom, which is a diadem so glorious that no bishop can give it and no prince can take it away. In a few moments more that crown was given to Humbert too, and he went to join his brave king in the home of the saints.
[The Danes soon left the area, but the Angles left behind could not find King Edmund's body.] So they searched through a whole morning, and cried through the trees and bushes to each other. At last they heard a deep voice calling to them– “Here, here!”
They rushed to the place whence the sound came, and lo! there was an old grey wolf with his great muzzle lifted in the air as he bayed–”Heugh, Heugh! Here, Here!” And between his paws lay the head of Saint Edmund, unharmed.
He was interred into place now known as Bury St. Edmunds, a midsized city in the English county of Suffolk. Much of what is known of him is legend or mythology. However, Edmund is seen as the patron saint of among others, torture victims, the Roman Catholic diocese of East Anglia, the English county of Suffolk, and wolves. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches have considered him patron saint of England. The Anglican Communion also considers him a saint. ~ Craig Manson
Not always fall of leaf, nor ever spring,
No endless night, yet not eternal day;
The saddest birds a season find to sing,
The roughest storm a calm may soon allay.
Thus, with succeeding turns, God tempereth all,
That man may hope to rise, yet fear to fall.
~ St. Robert Southwell in his poem Times Go by Turns
As a mother with many children, it is often difficult for me to find the time and place to write in the midst of the childsound and busy-ness of my household. I’ve learned to write at strange times (it’s quietest from 2:00 to 5:00 a.m.), in funny places (retreating to my quiet closet for a moment to write down a thought), and in brief, easily-finishable formats. No full-length novel for me! I’ve found my calling in blog posts and my first writing love: poetry.
The difficulties I face, however, are nothing compared to those confronted by one of my very favorite poets – a 16th-century priest of Elizabethan England whose bravery and poetic talent continue to inspire me. St. Robert Southwell’s writing time was squeezed into a life of hiding as he was hunted by Queen Elizabeth’s pursuivants, and during his imprisonment after he was arrested for his crime: being a Catholic priest. In fact, most of his poetry was written during 2 ½ years of solitary confinement in the Tower of London between episodes of torture.
It was a dire time in England for Catholics. Although the faith had been outlawed, Robert was raised Catholic by his mother (despite his father’s conversion to Protestantism to conform to the will of the queen, whom he served as courtier). Young Robert sought training at Douai and Rome, and was admitted into the Jesuit order at the age of 16, returning at 24 to serve the Catholic faithful of England as an undercover priest. He moved from place to place administering the sacraments to Catholics, while being pursued by agents of the queen. He was executed at the age of 34 after many months of horrible suffering.
The poetry of St. Robert Southwell, though not large enough in quantity to rank him among the great British poets, has been revered and enjoyed by many generations. As C.S. Lewis said, “We never read him without wondering why we do not read him more.” In fact, evidence suggests that even Shakespeare read and admired the poet’s work and was probably acquainted with him. Shakespeare’s contemporary, Ben Jonson commented that he would have readily forfeited many of his own poems to have written The Burning Babe, one of Southwell’s most famous works. St. Robert Southwell was canonized in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales whose feast day we celebrate on October 25. ~ Lisa / Smallest Leaf
I am going to pick a posse of saints – the 14 Holy Helpers (see below for who’s who). A prayer sent to the collective covers me for the plague and headaches and most importantly sudden death. ~ Sheri Fenley
Name (Alternate) ~ Feast day ~ Patronage
- Agathius (Acacius) – May 8 – Against headache
- Barbara – Dec 4 – Against fever and sudden death
- Blaise (Blase, Blasius) – Feb 3 -Against illness of the throat and for protection of domestic animals
- Catherine of Alexandria – Nov 25 – Against sudden death
- Christopher (Christophorus) – Jul 25 – Against bubonic plague and dangers while traveling
- Cyriacus – Aug 8 – Against temptation on the death-bed
- Denis (Dionysius) – Oct 9 – Against headache
- Erasmus (Elmo) – Jun 2 – Against intestinal ailments
- Eustace (Eustachius, Eustathius) – Sep 20 – Against family discord
- George (Georgius) – Apr 23 – For the health of domestic animals
- Giles (Aegidius) – Sep 1 – Against plague, for a good confession, and for cripples, beggars and blacksmiths
- Margaret of Antioch – Jul 20 – During childbirth, and escape from devils
- Pantaleon (Panteleimon) – Jul 27 – For physicians, and against cancer & tuberculosis
- Vitus (Guy) – Jun 15 – Against epilepsy, lightning and for protection of domestic animals