Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed learning about the saints. Now, as a priest, I love celebrating the many saints' feasts and memorials on the liturgical calendar. I find their stories both inspiring and challenging: inspiring because God worked through them despite their human weaknesses, and challenging because they remained faithful to the Lord and His Church both in good times and in bad.
It prompts me to reflect on my own life and whether I could make the same choice if put in similar circumstances. One thing I notice is that these heroic men and women—Catholic superheroes we can rightly call them—were not born saints. Rather, they became saints through the choices they made every day. Like us, they too made mistakes but would admit their failings and entrust them to God's mercy, thus turning their mistakes into opportunities to be drawn closer to the heart of Christ and purified by His Love.
Because of my admiration for the saints, when Fr. Will introduced the staff of St. Mary Magdalene four years ago to the idea of adopting a saint to be a "spiritual staff member" I was supportive and excited about the idea.
Part of the rationale behind the adoption of saintly intercession is that the chosen saint and their specific charism would guide the staff during that year. This saint would accompany us during our prayer and in our ministry, helping us be faithful to the Lord and guiding us in our efforts to serve you, the families and parishioners of St. Mary Magdalene. I saw the good fruit of this practice and wanted to continue it when I became pastor of St. Mary Magdalene. The first step involves me (or formerly Fr. Will) asking the Lord to reveal which saint He has chosen to walk with us in the coming year. Once the Holy Spirit leads us to this spiritual staff member, we invoke the intercession of that saint every time
we pray as a staff, petitioning him or her for intercession and guidance. We also have regular reflections on that saint, reading about his or her life and, exploring his or her writings.
I would like to share with you about the saints that have walked (and are walking) with the staff for the last four years, and some of what we have learned (and are learning) from these Catholic superheroes!
Born near Montreal on August 9, 1845, Andre was the eighth of twelve children. He went to work as a farmhand after being orphaned at age twelve. As a young adult, he wound up working in a factory in the United States during the Civil War. At age 25, Andre applied for admission to the Congregation of Holy Cross in Montreal but was denied until the local bishop wrote a recommendation for him. He was never ordained a priest but remained a humble lay brother his entire life. His role within the congregation was doorkeeper and sacristan. As doorkeeper, he was attentive to all the community's visitors, many of whom recognized his holiness when they prayed with him. Andre had a charism for the care of the sick and would frequently visit and care for anyone ill. In one instance, an epidemic hit at a nearby college, and Andre's care resulted in zero deaths. This began a constant influx of sick persons seeking his intercession. Andre, however, never took credit for the many healings, instead always attributing them to the intercession of St. Joseph, to whom he was intensely devoted. Andre received up to 80,000 letters every year asking for his prayers. Andre heard the call to build a chapel dedicated to St. Joseph on Mount Royal Hill. Despite having no resources, he set out to complete this endeavor and persevered until it came to fruition 50 years later! Andre died in 1931 at age 92 and is buried in the same chapel he built. Today there is a huge shrine to St. Joseph at that location, and miraculous healings continue to occur.
Why was he chosen? Because of his deep devotion to St. Joseph, known to help with construction projects, Andre's intercession is invoked to help us in our campaign to fundraise and build our parish hall.
"Someday, Saint Joseph is going to be honored in a very special way on Mount Royal!"
"St. Joseph cures."
Born September 15, 1858 in France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, and was raised by his Catholic grandmother. However, he later renounced his Catholic faith and entered military service with the French army serving in Algeria (bringing along his mistress Mimi). The Lord used the example of the faithful practice of Jews and Muslims living in Algeria as a catalyst for Charles to resume practicing his own Catholic faith. He returned to France and joined the Trappists as a lay brother. At age 42, he was ordained a priest and heard a call to missionary life in North Africa, where in 1905 he established a community in Tamanrasset, remaining there until his martyrdom on December 1, 1916. Charles was killed by a local tribe raiding his city and he, along with two French soldiers, was shot and killed.
Why was he chosen? Bl. Charles' life centered on God and was animated by prayer and humble service. So, inspired by his example, we ask his intercession to help us, the staff, live our faith humbly yet with deep conviction and courage.
"The love of God, the love for one's neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven."
Born January 2, 1873. Therese entered the Carmelite cloister in Lisieux, France at the age of 15. Known for her powerful and zealous prayer and powerful writings on redemptive suffering, she was named a Doctor of the Church by John Paul II on October 19, 1997. Therese, because of her fervent prayer for the salvation of souls, is also the patroness of missionaries (even though she never left the convent!) Her autobiography Story of a Soul is a beloved spiritual work read throughout the world. She lived a short life dying of tuberculosis at the age of 24 on September 30, 1897.
Why was she chosen? St. Therese is invoked in light of the visible attrition of our parish in recent years and the scandal that has rocked our Church as a whole. She can help us face crosses and trials with love, instead of fear.
"I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul." "I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth."
Francis was born September 26, 1182 to an Italian merchant family and in his youth dreamed of seeking glory in combat. He experienced a dramatic conversion before a Crucifix which audibly spoke to him and commanded him to "rebuild my church." This powerful moment reshaped the rest of his life, infusing it with deep love for Christ and the bold desire to share the Gospel. He was the first person to receive the stigmata (the five wounds of Christ on the hands, feet, and side). He is perhaps most well-known for his love of animals and creation. However, when I visited Assisi in 2012 and again in 2019, I learned about why: St. Francis would sometimes preach to animals when the children of God would not listen! St. Francis was so changed by love for Christ that he was willing to live in great poverty, to endure persecution, and to radically embrace the Gospel. He invites us to ask ourselves: How important are Christ and His Church in my life? Am I willing to give up anything for Christ? That's the true power and message of St. Francis!
St. Clare was born July 16, 1194 also in Assisi. At age 15, she heard Francis preach at her parish and was so moved by his witness to the Gospel that she knew she was called to a life of poverty as a bride of Christ. Clare had such great love and faith in the Eucharist that when her family, who was opposed to her religious vocation, came into the monastery and tried to force her to leave, she clung fervently to the altar and they found they were unable to move her. She went on to become, with Francis, cofounder of the Poor Clare nuns. One of the most famous stories from the life of Clare is when the town of Assisi was under threat from the Saracen army. Clare had the Most Blessed Sacrament placed on the wall facing the invading army asking for Christ's protection for the city and her convent. Her faith resulted in the Saracens fleeing the city. Clare also became the patron saint of television because when she was too ill to attend Christmas Midnight Mass, the Lord allowed her to miraculously see it from her bed. In the US, Poor Clares are perhaps best known for founding and sustaining of EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) under Mother Angelica.
Why were Francis and Clare chosen? Their simple love for the Gospel and their radical love of poverty and simplicity as gifts from God.
"Don't be afraid. Trust in Jesus"
"I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ"
"Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy"
These spiritual staff members have been a huge gift for me and the staff, and I hope they will inspire and challenge you too. Know that the staff also has a weekly holy hour (every Tuesday from 12:00pm-1:00pm) where we pray in silence for each other and for all your intentions. Any parishioners who want to come pray with us in the chapel at that time are always welcome.