Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Befriending the Saints in my Childhood

Happy Solemnity of All Saints Day!!!! 

This week has been so full already, with little time for blogging, but I cannot let this gorgeous day pass by without dropping a note about the saints. The saints in general (all those who have made it to Heaven) and the Saints (those who have been attributed with specific miracles and are celebrated in the Liturgy). They show us how to live for God while here on Earth, persevering through difficulties and trials. They remind us that in all walks of life, we can achieve sanctity. And, as Pope Francis pointed out in his homily today, we see that “If there is one thing typical of the saints, it is that they are genuinely happy."

As is the case with many people, while I love all the saints, I have greater devotion to some saints in particular-those men and women whose example I look to more often, and who I specifically ask to pray for me most frequently. Those friends who I have gotten to know in various parts of my life for different reasons, and who will always hold a special place in my heart. Among these Favorite Saints (let's be real, I have so many "favorites"), there are a handful in particular who stand out from my younger years of childhood. 

St. Kateri Tekakwitha
When I was about 8 or so, I learned about St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Conveniently, this was also during a time when I was obsessed about all things that related to Native Americans. I loved reading fiction books about Native Americans, going through non-fiction books about Native Americans, and gazing at all the pretty clothes the women wore. When I learned about Kateri's life, I thought it was pretty spectacular that she was a young girl like myself (except she lived in the 17th century), did something very counter-cultural (become Catholic even though it caused her to be mocked by many villagers), and eventually escaped, taking refuge in a Christian community in Canada. 
[Sidenote: Is this why people always say that they will "move to Canada" when things get bad in the U.S.A.??? Kateri is such a trendsetter.]
Kateri showed me that even a young girl can be super awesome, counter-cultural, and epicly holy. And yes, I dressed up as her a few years in a row for Halloween and All Saints Day, but I don't have any of those photos on my computer, so you'll be spared from seeing little girl AnneMarie...for now ;) 

St. Philip Neri
I first came across this man when I read the Vision Book, Saint Philip of the Joyous Heart, by Francis Connolly. The aspect that jumped out to me was, as you may guess from the book's title, his joy. Philip lived and worked in Rome, caring for the poor and sick. He became a priest at the age of 36, and spent hours in the Confessional each day, offering God's Sacrament of mercy to others. In all that he did, he sought to embrace a childlikeness, simplicity, and authentic love for others. However, the coolest aspect of St. Philip Neri, to my very young self, was that after he died, it was discovered that his heart was enlarged and had broken a couple of his ribs. I thought it was a pretty neat physical characteristic of a man who loved much during his life, and it really made an impression on me. 

St. Sharbel Makhlouf
When I was 7 or 8 years old and lived in Oregon, my parents took my siblings and I to St. Sharbel Maronite Catholic Church one Sunday. The priest who was pastor at the time, Abouna Jonathan Decker, was pretty epic. As in, at one point, I decided that he made me think of a cross between Jesus and St. Pio. This man's holiness shone out to me in such a profound way, and since he was the pastor of St. Sharbel, the Maronite saint naturally became a part of my family's life (he stalked us a bit, too). His intense prayer and love for God were neat, and the many miracles attributed to his intercession were awesome.  Plus, for several years after his death, Sharbel was incorrupt, which is mega-legit. As I grew older, I learned more about Sharbel and the Maronites in general, and really fell in love with the profound solitude, prayer, and contemplation that flow forth from them. And when I moved to Oklahoma City and my husband and I parish-hopped, the first time we attended Mass at St. Francis, the stained glass window of St. Maron jumped out at me and I knew that we were home. 

St. Scholastica
When I was young and read a children's book about St. Benedict, I learned about Scholastica, his twin sister. Scholastica, I learned, became a nun who lived in a community just a handful of miles away from her brother's community. As a nun, she filled her days with work and prayer. She wasn't allowed to visit her brother's monastery, but once a year, Scholastica and Benedict would meet at a building nearby so that they could talk and reflect on the spiritual life. One year, Scholastica begged and pleaded with her brother to stay the night and continue their conversation. When he refused, and said he needed to get back to the monastery, she started praying fervently...and when she finished praying, a storm broke out-and due to the rain, thunder, and lightning, Benedict found that he could not leave. So, he stayed and spoke with his sister about spiritual topics all night. Just three days later, Scholastica died. I was a very stubborn, independent, and passionate young girl (still am, in many ways!). So, Scholastica really appealed to me because she was stubborn and passionate. She was faithful in prayer and a very loving, devoted sibling. When I was a young teenager, I dressed as her one year for Halloween and All Saints Day, and along with my long nun robe, I held a small lighting bolt. I thought it was quite appropriate :) 

St. Francis of Assisi
It is not an exaggeration to say that St. Francis of Assisi changed my life. Like many Catholic kids, I grew up watching animated videos about St. Francis, hearing stories about him and the animals, or seeing birdbaths that depict this saint. But, one day when I was a young teenager, I saw that my parents had two thick biographies of St. Francis sitting on their bookshelf, and I read both of them. As I read about who St. Francis really was, and the intensity of his love, joy, and penitential way of living, I discovered what I was missing in my life: true, deep, intense love and joy. In fact, my exuberance for St. Francis became so great that one weekend, when my parents were out of town, I discovered and entered an essay contest with a piece I wrote on St. Francis (I'm cringing now at the severe lack of editing. For those curious, you can find my essay here). He is my Confirmation saint, my good friend, and inspiration as I bounce through this epic adventure of life! 

All of these saints became good friends of mine years ago, and while I do not invoke some of them as often as I used to (St. Philip Neri is not on my mind near as often as St. Francis!), they all hold a very dear and special place in my heart. I am so abundantly grateful that my parents placed such a high priority on filling our home with books and movies on the saints while I was growing up, and that we dressed as them each year for All Saints Day. Cultivating a special love and devotion with particular saints was such a huge part of my childhood, and continues to be a big part of my life. When we befriend the saints, we can be encouraged and inspired as we journey towards God. We see how they overcame obstacles and sins in their lives, and learn from their example. I hope that you all have a very blessed and awesome All Saints Day, and that if you don't pay much attention to the saints, that you take today as a chance to learn more about these epic individuals. 

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