Communion of Saints

In 07 Observations on 2013/07/05 at 12:00 AM

The Communion of Saints 

Detailed notes taken by Aida Tamayo on Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism Series

“There is only one real sadness in life…Not to be a saint.”  Spiritual writer Leon Bloy

A saint is someone who is in heaven someone that allowed the grace of God to invade him/her.  This grace doesn’t compromise or undermine what it invades, it enhances.  That is the nature of grace, if we cooperate with God’s grace, we’ll experience life to the fullest.  Fr. Barron suggests that a saint is someone that allowed Jesus to get into his/her boat.  To see this dynamic at play, just examine the lives of the saints.  Fr. Barron explores the lives of 4 relatively speaking modern saints.  We can see how Jesus graciously invaded their lives and with their cooperation transfigured them from the inside out.   Two of them are dear to my Carmelite heart:  St. Therese of Lisieux, and Edit Stein who became St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  I identify somewhat with Edith in that it was the great Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) that enkindled in her desire for Carmel.

Before we look at these saints, how about us? We should want to be a saint and should never settle for second best.   That is what we’ve been designed for, that is the principle purpose of the Church, to help us become saints.   We want to be a saint because only saints live in heaven.  It may be through a long process of purification in this life or the one to come, but nevertheless when you get to Heaven, you have achieved that state of perfection (we call a saint) and are thus united to God.  As Father Barron said “Wanting to be the most successful, wealthiest person in the world is a stupid waste of time but to want to be a saint, that is the way to go.  That is a great thing to desire. “

Thomas Aquinas’ sister once asked him what she had to do to be a saint.  He said “Will IT”!  He is right.  Part of our problem is that we accept a kind of spiritual mediocrity.  Me a saint … really?  Really! A big part of it is to want it, to move beyond the spiritual mediocrity and say I want to be a person of heroic virtue and follow Christ with all my heart and stop playing the game of false humility by saying “I can never do that”.  No, for God all things are possible and He can make a saint out of any of us but we have to desire it and cooperate with Him.

Four Saints

Unknown-5Katherine Drexel.  She came from one of the riches families in the USA.  Born 11/26/1 858, her parents were devout Catholics. They had a chapel in their home and her father retired to it for prayer every day after work and did works of charity.  They drilled into their children that their wealth had been entrusted to them and was destined to be used for the common good.  At 14 years old, Katherine met Fr. O’Connor who had a tremendous influence on her.  Under his direction, she laid out a program to grow in holiness.  At age 20 her parents died within months of each other and Katherine inherited the equivalent of $400 million today.  She was plagued with a sense of anxiety and indecisiveness.  During a trip to Europe, she had a meeting with the Pope and kneeling in front of him offered her support to the order of priests or nuns he wished to send to evangelize the Native Americans and the colored people, the most disadvantaged groups in the US.  The Pope suggested she should be that missionary. Visibly affected, she left the Vatican and sobbed as she thought of the enormity of such a task.  She felt God was calling her to be a nun and perhaps form an order dedicated to the poorest ones in America.  She fully dedicated herself and used her money for her tremendous mission.  It was justice elevated, transfigured, rendered luminescent by grace.  With Katherine’s cooperation, Jesus had so seized her life that now she had become an icon of His Presence. She died in 1955.

Unknown-4Thérèse of Lisieux. Born in 1/2/1873, her parents were pious devout members of the French middle class.  She had a blissful childhood until her mother died in 1877 when Therese was 4 years old.  When miraculously cured from a psychological and physical illness, Thérèse saw it as a manifestation of God’s grace, God’s unmerited love.  She would become one of the doctors of grace in our church.  She understood clearly that grace was necessary for the spiritual life and this grace required our cooperation with God’s love.  She became a Carmelite nun at the age of 15 after begging those in authority, including the Pope, to enter at such a young age.  She lived 9 years in the Carmelite convent until her death at age 24 and during this time she developed a spirituality known as the little way which she was ordered to write by her spiritual director in her autobiography the Story of a Soul.  Her Little Way involved doing simple and ordinary things out of great love, small sacrifices accepted gratefully.  Thérèse was plagued at the end of her life with the darkness of unbelief to join in the pain of so many souls that did not believe in God.  She wrote that in a joyful Easter, Jesus helped her understand that there are souls who have no faith.  He allowed her soul to be invaded by the thickest darkness and she interpreted this struggle as a participation in the pain of so many of her contemporaries who no longer believe in God. She died of tuberculosis on 9/30/1897 at age 24.  Hardly known by anyone at her death, she became known worldwide within a few years of her death due to her autobiography of “Story of a Soul”. We can characterize her holiness as transfigured prudence which was elevated by Christ’s love.  Like a little child, Thérèse let God pick her up and raise her to the heights.  Her loving and trusting “little way” allowed her to open herself fully to the grace of God.

Unknown-6Edith Stein was born 10/12/1891 in Breslau in Poland to pious Jewish parents. She also had a privileged childhood.  She was smart and strong willed.  Her father died when she was still young and as she grew older she became an atheist.  Highly intellectual, s he studied for a doctorate under Husserl the master of phenomenology.  Upon obtaining the doctorate in 1915, Husserl asked her to work alongside him but treated her as glorified secretary leaving her highly dissatisfied with her job.  Her friends were scandalized that someone of her great intellect was forced to perform such simple tasks.  During this time a good friend was killed in the war and she went to visit his widow, expecting to see her devastated but instead she was sad but fundamentally at peace.   That serenity came from the woman’s Christian faith.   Edith later wrote: “It was my first encounter with the cross and the divine power it bestows upon those who carry it”.   Jesus was getting into Edith’s boat.  There were other moments that occurred that led her to eventual conversion, similar to the one experienced by Blessed Newman’s or St. Augustine’s – a gradual interior conversion that was accompanied by much intellectual wrestling.

This is where I identify with Edith Stein.  One day she was staying with friends and to pass the time picked a copy of Teresa of Avila’s autobiography.  She spent the whole night reading it and when she put the book down she simply said:  That is the truth.  She wouldn’t say what about the book impressed her, but like me, it was the galvanizing moment when all the strands came together.  After a few days of thinking and praying she went to the local priest and asked to be baptized.  When he questioned her readiness, she eagerly asked him to test her.  She was received into the Church 1/1/1922.  She immediately wanted to join the Carmelites but she was asked to wait.  Eleven years later in 1933 she was accepted into the Carmel in Cologne.   In 1938 Germany was invaded by the Nazis and eventually the Gestapo came for Edith in 8/2/1942 and took her away with her sister who had also joined the order.  During the journey she comforted and helped distraught mothers and their children.  She was murdered in Auschwitz in 8/9/1942 in the gas chamber.  What we see in a martyr like Edith is not normal courage, but courage elevated and transformed through love.  She was willing to give her own life out of love for Christ and His people.

Unknown-7Teresa of Calcutta was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on 8/26/1910 in Serbia.  At 12 she felt the call to religious life and at 18 enter the Loreto Sisters and took the name sister Mary Teresa  of the Child Jesus after the just canonized Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower.  After some time in Ireland she sailed for India and saw unbelievable poverty.  She worked incessantly in helping the poor to the point of a breakdown.  During her recuperation time she felt Jesus’ call to her to serve the poorest of the poor an d to follow Him with reckless abandon.  She understood it as a summons to slake the thirst of Jesus for souls.  It took a while but she was eventually released from her vows with the Loreto Sisters and allowed to found her own community, the Missionaries of Charity whose mission was to serve the poorest of the poor.  Formal approval came from the Vatican in April of 1948.  This is something important to understand about the lives of the saints.  When a work is of God, people are drawn to it and so many of Mother Teresa’s own students came to join her here in Calcutta.  They lived in same poverty as those they served.  From this small beginning the order expanded to over 500 missions on six continents.  Mother Teresa said if there are poor people on the moon we shall go there too!  In time, Mother became a world renowned figure wining the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and used her Nobel speech time as a way to decry abortion which she saw as the greatest enemy of peace in contemporary society.  She experienced extraordinary closeness to Jesus most of her life but when her order got underway, she experience just the opposite, her unique participation in the suffering of Christ, an aching sense of the Lord’s absence.  This darkness lasted for the rest of her life.  She felt a terrible pain of loss. She had no joy in her work. She came to understand that her suffering was a sharing in the passion of Jesus, and His feelings as being abandoned by the Father.  She entered more deeply into the suffering of those she longed to serve.  This experience was not unlike her namesake, Therese of Lisieux who suffered the same type of darkness at the end of her life.  Mother Teresa died on 9/5/1997 at age of 87. Temperance is the virtue by which we control our desires for food, drink and pleasure so that we might achieve the demands of justice.  Mother Teresa was elevated and transfigured in temperance –  a disciplining of the desires that goes beyond the requirement of justice so as to serve the infinite demands of love.

The beauty of the church can be found in the tremendous differences it has in its saints: from a towering intellectual as Thomas Aquinas to St. Francis, who wasn’t much of an intellectual at all.  There is Joan of Arc, a warrior saint and non-violent saints.  This is the glory of what we call the communion of saints.  Each one of the four saints in this video segment allows a unique dimension of the Divine Holiness to shine through.  Katherine Drexel produced a miracle of transfigured Justice; Edith gave us the clarity of her intellectual work and the beauty of her martyrdom; Thérèse of Lisieux gave us the Little Way; and Mother Theresa brought forth the Missionaries of Charity.  The church needs the diversity of the saints to show the infinite intensity of God’s goodness.


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