Kids and “Problem” Saints

+JMJ+

We read a lot of saint stories around here. I’m always trying to read something about or by a saint, and our kids’ bookshelves are full (though never full enough!) of picture books about these great heroes of the faith.  I’ve always got a few “Lives of the Saints” books stashed away in my diaper bag for taking the kids to mass and they are frequently playing with little saint dolls: either plush ones that I’ve made, or little figures like these:

saints
St. Luke’s Brush on Etsy
guadalupe
Shining Light Dolls

So you may think I’ve got the market cornered on the whole “teaching your kids about the saints” thing. But, nope.

You see, the problem is that saint stories can be kind of… “adult.” And most of the “Lives of the Saints” books read something like this:

Saint So-and-So lived in the fourth century. Her parents tried to force her to marry some wicked dude, but she refused because she had promised that she would remain a virgin for Christ. So Wicked Dude’s parents got angry and everyone ganged up on her and killed her. Her feast day was yesterday.

“Hey mommy, what’s a virgin?”

“Mommy, how did they kill her?”

“Mommy, are people like Wicked Dude and all the horrible parents in this story still alive?”

Oh, JesusMaryandJoseph.

Let me first say that my approach to handling saint stories is NOT to sugar-coat them, but prudence is definitely our ally.  So, I’ve compiled a list of a few ways we tackle the Hard Truths about the saints in our family:

1. If your kids aren’t of the age to understand “virgin” in any biological sense, go for the spiritual sense. “Mommy, what’s a virgin?” “A virgin is someone who wants to dedicate their life to Christ alone. They want to give their whole selves to Jesus, so they don’t want to get married– especially to someone who doesn’t love Jesus, too.” It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s a great segue into: “There are people who give up being married even today!” Priests and nuns are great! As of yet, we haven’t had any complicating questions about the Blessed Virgin Mary, but I imagine we’ll get there soon and then I’ll have to bite the bullet.

2. Depending on the temperament of your child, there are many ways to handle the martyrdom issue:

  • Let them think it’s cool. This is particularly effective with boys. St. Sebastian is the ultimate “cool” saint (this is still true with high-schoolers). There’s something about his super-hero-esque endurance (“HOW many times was he shot???”) and the romantically dangerous thrill of the *whizz* of arrows that really gets them going. It’s the same fascination that makes some kids love the idea of firefighters and police officers. Let them be fascinated.
  • Bait-and-switch.  First, play up the sympathy card. “POOR So-and-so!” Let them grieve for the saint for about three seconds, then finish the story (even if your book doesn’t do this!) “But she loved God so much and God loved her so much, that as soon as she was killed, guess what He did? He took her straight to heaven!” OH YAY!!!
  • Don’t neglect to bring the story to the present day. Whatever your child’s emotional reaction is, use that to inform them that there are still martyrs today. Be gentle, of course, and reassure them that they are safe. But ask them to pray for all the people who are in danger because they love Jesus so much. Let them know that their prayers are very important– this gives them control over the situation and turns the focus outward.

3. Don’t force stories on your kids if they aren’t ready. Even if they aren’t martyred, some saints just don’t resonate very well with children– and that’s ok. Rather than white-washing their stories, though, you’re best just to skip over them and let the child build up the necessary “muscles” to grapple with the story. So if you have a big book of saints and you come to someone who for whatever reason seems like a bad choice to talk about, point out their virtues and their love of God and move on.

4. Be judicious about the books you let your kids read– even saint books. We had an incident a few weeks ago where our eldest daughter (who is a kindergartener) was reading a book of saints for girls that someone had given to us. One saint was heralded as the patron saint against men. Another story focused exclusively on the saint’s powers of levitation and performing wild miracles, without conveying anything of her piety. Then we realized that the rest of the book was basically a “girls are cool, boys drool” collection and that book was quickly trashed. Our daughter was upset, but we preferred to deal with that than let the book stay in the house. Saints should never compete with one another, nor should they encourage the child to imagine the saints as “magicians” instead of holy people. One can tell the same story, but with different language and different emphasis– at the end of the day, inspiring the child to holiness is the most important thing.

5.  This goes hand-in-hand with the previous one, but choose “good” books. If it’s a book about the saints that looks like it was illustrated by a three-year-old, don’t buy it. Hold holy literature to the same standards you do for other kid books. We try to buy books that have gorgeous illustrations and challenging, positive vocabulary– this goes for anything we read.

6. Don’t forget to “bring it home.” The Church has saints for two main reasons- to emphasize our connection with them in the Communion of Saints and encourage us to ask them for help, and to give us models of holiness so that we are better equipped to seek the Good in our own lives. You don’t have to beat kids over the head with these messages, but children need to know that saint stories aren’t just for fun. They are fun, but the point is that WE are also called to be saints and we can learn about different ways to love God through learning about the lives of the saints. Invite your children to imagine how wonderful it would be to talk with their patron saint in heaven. Tell them that the saints are like our cheerleaders in heaven and they can’t WAIT for us to get there, too. Talk about purgatory. Ask them to pray for the dead who are on their way to heaven, just as the saints pray for us.

The saints occupy a very special place in the imaginations of children. They are real people, yet they can feel totally “other,” as if they belong to the realm of faerie. Use this to your advantage when teaching your kids about their lives, rather than shying away from it– and don’t forget to maintain some of that imagination for yourself. This is the most important one:

7. Cultivate a love of the saints in your own life. Develop friendships and really get to know them. Kids are the most perceptive people on the planet. They’ll see. And they’ll learn from you.

Who are your favorite saints to teach your children about?
What do you do when saint stories seem inappropriate or challenging for your kids?
What are your favorite picture books or compilations of saint stories?

Let me know in the comments!

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The Heroic Minute

+JMJ+

In “El Camino,” St. Josemaria Escriva writes:

206: The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation, a supernatural reflection and– up!

In his booklet “Seven Daily Habits for Faithful Catholics,”* Fr. John McCloskly also writes:


“The first habit is the morning offering. This is when you offer the day ahead for God’s glory using youro wn words or a memorized prayer. But what has to happen before your offering is crucial. As St. Josemaria Escriva put it: ‘Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a set time, without granting a single minute of laziness. If with the help of God you conquer yourself in that moment, you have accomplished a great deal for the rest of the day. It’s so discouraging to find yourself beaten in the first skirmish.’ In my pastoral experience, those who get a full night’s rest and conquer the ‘heroic minute’ in the morning…will have both the physical and spiritual wherewithal throughout the day to incorporate the seven habits into their daily routine.”  

Even as I copy this text, I can feel my body going into contortions and my brain is screaming: “nooooooooooooooo!” 

You see, I am not a morning person.
I know a morning person.
My husband is a morning person.

I read about someone bolting out of bed and conquering the day from the first moment and immediately my husband comes to mind. He says he simply got himself into the habit of getting up with his alarm in high school and now his body just “does it.”

I do not comprehend this.

I, too, woke up with my alarm in high school and even in college– I’ve responded with superhuman speed when my children cry for me in the night, but if I have the option of staying in bed for five more minutes, then by golly, I’m going to take it.

I have since come to accept that this is not (merely?) a moral failing on my part– it is part of my biology. I have two daughters: one of them is a morning person and one is clearly not.  They are both toddlers and even now this is very evident in their characters.  My younger girl will wake up singing, laughing and wanting to play.  My older daughter wakes up and drags her Beddy Bear along the floor to the couch, where she promptly flops herself down and won’t speak to anyone for five minutes.  We went through a period of time when the first thing she would say whimper after her nap was: “OH NOOOOOOOOOOO!” 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that personality has a huge part to play in all of this.  And quite personally, I don’t see it as a discouragement at all if I “fail” to get up as soon as the alarm goes off.  When this happens, I perceive it as a huge gift from God and my husband, who is inevitably already up with at least one of the girls by the time I roll out of bed.

No matter how much I aspire to be better about getting up quickly in the morning, this is obviously a huge hurdle that will not come easily to me.  Some very holy people may perceive it as the first/primary exercise of virtue (virtue= good habit), but I perceive that in my life, some other things may have to come first.

So I have been thinking about different times of day when I encounter opportunities for heroic minutes.  
Note the plural.

Every moment has the potential to be “heroic” when it comes to our struggles against evil, sin and omission. If I chose to say morning prayer before getting my cup of coffee– that would be heroic. I haven’t gotten that one yet.

But if I choose to say the rosary or even do the dishes before I check Facebook or a blog– that can be heroic.

And turning away from distractions so that I can play with my children when they desire my attention– that is a form of heroism, too.

All of these things have their circumstantial exceptions and limitations, but the most important part in all of this is that no matter what you find yourself faced with each day– whatever your personal challenges and battles, no matter how big or how small– we must not be discouraged. With God’s great grace and help, we must fight to become heroes, masters of our selves, so that we are capable of offering that self back to God.

Thank the Lord we are not alone in such a great task.

Where do you find your heroic moments? 
Where do you find your inspiration and help in difficult tasks? 


____
*Should you be interested, the Seven Habits are: morning offering, 15 mins silent prayer, receiving communion, 15 mins spiritual reading, praying the Angelus, praying the Rosary, examination of conscience

In Which We Celebrate the Annunciation

+JMJ+

Here’s a throw-back from my old blog (that’s allowed, right?).
Happy Feast Day to my sister and her family!!! ❤

by Tanner
Happy Feast of the Annunciation!
I couldn’t let this great opportunity pass to offer a little reflection on this day, since I love the liturgical year so much.  What often comes to mind today is: NINE MONTHS UNTIL CHRISTMAS! …but it seems to me that we often lose sight of what this feast is about: the beginning and end of Jesus’ life.  
In ancient times, a life was considered ‘perfect’ if it began and ended on the same calendar day.  Since Easter was celebrated in connection with Passover from the earliest times in late March/early April, the ancients believed that the incarnation must have also happened around this time.  We moderns may think of it as merely a convention to mark the nine-months before the ‘real’ holiday of Christmas, but the Annunciation was a Christian feast before Christmas even came to the scene.  It’s a feast which celebrates the ‘wholeness,’ the ‘perfection’ and the ‘fullness’ of Jesus’ life on earth.  
Mary’s “yes” is the beginning of the Christian drama and we celebrate her openness to God’s will, but we should also meditate on what this feast means during our Lenten  time of preparation. We cannot celebrate the life of Jesus without also commemorating His sacrificial death.  We cannot imitate the fiat of Mary without knowing that it is deeply connected to her presence at the foot of the cross. 
Conversely, the sorrows of His death and cross are made joyful by the fact that Christ really took on human flesh through Mary and rose again through that same flesh.  So, too, are our sorrows now turned to joys through that fiat of Mary which enabled our Savior to become human as we are human, so that we might share in His eternal life as adopted sons and daughters of God. 
May we find in Mary’s fiat the prayer of Jesus in the garden and may our times of joy and sorrow all be opportunities to encounter the Incarnate God.

Loving Mother of the Redeemer,
Gate of Heaven, Star of the sea, 
Assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again. 
To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator,
Yet remained a virgin after as before.
You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting,
Have pity on us poor sinners.  

True Devotion?

+JMJ+

Having finished re-reading ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ I was looking for another book to devour.  As I went to the bookshelf, my heart kind of sank because I realized it was full of the same books it always is. I wanted something new. I wanted something challenging. So I raided the office library and found a copy of “True Devotion to Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort. Actually, we have about twenty copies laying around, so I grabbed one and brought it home.

On sale at Catholic Company

Boy, is this text challenging.

I may have said this before, but I’m kind of a reluctant Dominican when it comes to the whole ‘devotion to Mary’ thing. I believe this is why God has called me along this path; because without Fr. Dominic’s prompting, I might never grow to embrace her as I should. I’ve never really felt a strong connection with her and sometimes I really don’t understand those who do. I don’t deny that theirs may be the right relationship to have with Our Blessed Mother, but it does make me a little envious that for some people it just seems to come so joyfully and easily. But when I read things like:

“It is Mary alone who has given to the miserable children of Eve, the faithless, entry into the terrestrial paradise… or rather, since she is herself that terrestrial paradise, that virgin and blessed earth from which Adam and Eve, the sinners, have been driven, she gives no entry there except to those whom it is her pleasure to make saints.” — paragraph 45

… I get a little uncomfortable. I won’t unpack this paragraph here because I do believe that St. Louis de Montfort does not overstretch into the heretical and I trust the numerous qualifications that underly this statement to be taken for granted in his writing. But still– could we come up with a better way to say this? It just seems… imprudent.

As I was thinking all of these things the other night, I was struck by a very vivid memory.

I went through a very short period in high school when I brought my Bible with me and arrived early, so that I could sit in front of my locker and read from the Gospels before the day started. Now: I went to public school, so perhaps this was particularly odd and perhaps I did it partly in a show-offy “look at me the hypocrite while I pray” sort of way. I was admittedly a punk…

…But I also remember that I was truly thirsting for God’s Word. I was having a really rough time (who wasn’t?) and I really wanted to learn who Jesus was and WWJD and all of that.

As I was reading through John’s Gospel, I came across these quotes:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from life to death.”- Jn 5:24

 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” — Jn 6:51

“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” — Jn 8:19

“Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day.” — Jn 12:48

John’s Gospel is full of this stuff. And as I actually read these words, I felt this strange emotion stirring inside me. It felt unjust. It felt pompous. I remember thinking, “This Jesus is totally full of himself. Why is everything about Him???

I wasn’t astute enough in my reading or even capable of stepping outside of my own little world at the moment to realize that these were exactly the charges that led so many people to reject Him. He was just a guy. They knew his mother. He sounded like He was claiming to be God, to be doing things that only God can do… this man was crazy!

Years later, I stumbled upon this famous quote of Lewis:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” ― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

YES. This is EXACTLY what I felt and now I am grateful to have had that experience because it eventually forced me to confront Jesus as either a lunatic or the true Son of God: at some point, I had to make the choice. Thank God I was able to profess the latter.

So as I read through this book about devotion to Mary, part of me wonders if I’m not experiencing the same sort of tension? I’d like to say “Oh well, some saints are really devoted to Mary and others aren’t… or at least their devotion takes a very different form and that’s OK,” but maybe there’s something of her son hidden in her as well. Maybe all of this unsettling talk about Mary will eventually force me to acknowledge something that up until now I’ve been denying. I’m not sure.

For now, I plan to trudge through the book and pray that I will be able to see and learn whatever Christ and His Blessed Mother desire of me. The Rosary has already taught me much about her and I am sure there is much more to learn, so I pray that God will, if nothing else, at least reward my persistence.

What about you? Have you read “True Devotion?” What was your experience like? 
Do you ever feel uncomfortable reading about Mary, the saints, or even about Jesus? What do you do? 
Do you have any less-intense suggestions for texts that could help ease me into this one?

Happy Feast of St. Francis!

+JMJ+

Though some animosity (sibling rivalry, perhaps?) is well-documented between the Dominicans and Franciscans, historically, the two groups of mendicant friars do see themselves as brethren.  Today, Dominicans everywhere celebrate the feast of “our Father Francis,” so I would be remiss to pass up this opportunity to talk a little bit about who I believe is one of Catholicism’s Most Misunderstood Saints.

When you do an image search on Google for St. Francis, some fun stuff pops up:

Source

Purchase this print on Etsy!

Umm… what?

It’s clear that our modern sensitivities place St. Francis in a category that can roughly be described as: rainbow-hippie-frolicking-through-the-forest-eco-friendly. It’s a nice image for the pet lover’s soul, but even the incredibly well-known story of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio doesn’t date until at least a century and half after his death.

However, if you read Bonaventure’s “Life of Saint Francis” (which predates the Wolf story by approximately 100 years), you are faced with a very different image of the saint. After his famous account of the Seraphic Vision of St. Francis, through which our beloved father received the stigmata, Bonaventure writes:

2. Now in order that the merits of the man of God might be increased,—merits that of a truth do all find their consummation in endurance,—he began to suffer from divers ailments so grievously that scarce one of his limbs was free from pain and sore suffering. At length by divers sicknesses, prolonged and continuous, he was brought unto such a point that his flesh was wasted away, and only as it were the skin clave unto his bones. While he was afflicted by such grievous bodily suffering, he would call his pangs not punishments, but sisters. And when once he was harassed more sorely than usual by sharp pains, a certain simple Brother said unto him: “Brother, pray the Lord that He deal more gently with thee, for meseemeth that His hand is laid more heavily on thee than is right.” Hearing this, the holy man groaned, and cried out, saying: “Did I not know the simple purity that is in thee, I would from henceforth have shunned thy company, for that thou hast dared to deem the divine counsels concerning me meet for blame.” And albeit he was wholly worn out by the long continuance of his grievous sickness, he cast himself on the ground, jarring his frail bones in the hard fall. And, kissing the ground, he cried: “I give Thee thanks, O Lord God, for all these my pains, and I beseech Thee, my Lord, that, if it please Thee, Thou wilt add unto them an hundredfold; for this will be most acceptable unto me if laying sorrow upon me Thou dost not spare, since the fulfilling of Thy holy will is unto me an overflowing solace.” Thus He seemed unto the Brethren like another Job, whose powers of mind increased even as his bodily weakness increased. But he himself knew long before his death when it should be, and, when the day of his departure was at hand, said unto the Brethren that he was about to put off the tabernacle of his body, even as it had been revealed unto him of Christ. — Chapter XIV, 2. (trans. Salter, 1904)

When I contemplate this image of Francis, I find something more like:

Source

Caravaggio

Francis had a zeal for preaching and the salvation of souls– but his end was anything but rainbows and fairies. He experienced intense suffering and darkness because of his great passion for Christ.  I do not mean to suggest that this is on conflict with the image of a man who saw God in nature, who loved all of God’s creatures and preached the Gospel through a deep love of humanity… but I just want to suggest that perhaps Francis is better understood as a wild honey-and-locusts, John-the-Baptist sort, rather than relegating this great man to the blessings of baby bunnies.
…Although admittedly, baby bunnies are friggin’ cute. 
Hewwo, I wuv you.
(source)
Happy Feast of Father Francis!!!

Lit Review

+JMJ+


I’m sure I’ll be posting a lot here about the books that my kids and I are reading, so consider this a “first” of many literature reviews to come!

Yesterday, I visited the Carmelite Chapel at one of our local malls (yeah, you read that correctly) for mass and stopped in the gift shop to pick up a visor clip after I inadvertently left ours in another car. Whenever I’m in such a shop, I can’t help but poke around in the books section– specifically, I like to look at the children’s books.  I ended up purchasing a couple of Lives of Saints books.

I can already hear the groans.
Another book about the saints?! How many can you possibly have? Aren’t they all the same holy roller drivel with dated images where all the girls look like porcelain dolls and all the guys look like gladiators?
So I thought. But the answer is apparently ‘no.’

I stumbled upon a series by Aquinas Kids (love ’em already…)

These are the two books I picked out for the girls.  The first thing you may notice is that the features of these faces are remarkably beautiful– and DIFFERENT. Michael Adams’ illustration work is simply gorgeous. I could gush all day. I mean, look at his depiction of Mary:

Each book features sixteen saints and a cost of only $1.50 each, I’m pretty sure the buyer comes out the winner. Big time.  
The mini biographies are not as strikingly beautiful as the images, but they are nonetheless very well-written and I don’t mind reading them– which is more than I can say for some other saint books. And while there are other collections that I think rival this one in illustration and perhaps surpass it in text (Ruth Sanderson’s “Saints: Lives and Illuminations” comes springing to mind), the portable 5.5″ x 7.5″ size makes it very easy to tuck in a diaper bag or let the kids bring along in the stroller. THAT’S a huge plus. 
To top it all off, my girls are simply enchanted with them. Even now, they are carrying them around the apartment. S has latched on to Saint Lucy in particular and E loves Saint Kateri.  These are already a “favorite” book for mass and I cannot recommend them enough. 
Other titles in the series: 

St. Agnes of Prague

+JMJ+

Cherishing Everyday Beauty invited me to do a guest post about one of my favorite saints, so I had to share with everyone about my new love, St. Agnes of Prague (or Bohemia, if you prefer). Since her blog is invitation-only, here’s the piece I wrote:

As a mother of two precious toddler girls, I am constantly surrounded by princesses.

And glitter. And dreams of ballerina fairies. But mostly princesses. So it should come as

no surprise that the girls went crazy when they found out that there are REAL LIVE

princesses– and even better: some of them have been saints!

In an effort to captivate their fanciful little hearts, I began scouring the internet for

“princess saints” and today I am happy to present to you one of the most amazing

examples of royal holiness that you’ve probably never heard of: Princess Agnes of

Prague!

Agnes was just canonized in 1989, though her story takes us back to the early 13th

century. Her father was the King of Bohemia and at that time Bohemia was very small,

but considerably rich. The countryside was littered with silver mines and the King sought

to use Agnes to secure his title and position by marrying her off to a rich young suitor

(preferably one that came with a large army attached). Agnes was sent to school

alongside the eligible bachelors of Europe and the rest plays out like a bad soap opera:

her first betrothed died unexpectedly, her second was the subject of a political conspiracy

and so he was underhandedly given to another and the engagement was broken.

Sent back to Bohemia with the shame of no marriage prospects, Agnes sought to

become a Poor Clare– but to her politically-minded father this was nonsense. Instead,

she was promised in marriage to none other than the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, a

man whose three excommunications, multiple marriages and unethical experiments on

human subjects made him a less-than-ideal match. So Agnes took it upon herself to write

directly to the Pope and ask for permission to become a consecrated virgin, thus

dispensing her from the obligation to marry. Her request was granted and eventually

things took a turn for the better.

When he ascended to the throne, her loving brother King Wenceslas (no, not the one

from the song) helped her purchase land and build a hospital, Gothic church and double

monastery in Prague. Again with the help of the pope, she started her own group of Poor

Clares and was immediately elected abbess. She served her fellow sisters with much

humility, often taking the most tedious and odious tasks upon herself.

The best part yet? Though they never met in person, she became best friends through

correspondence with Clare herself and some of their letters still survive. Clare called her

“the other half of my heart” and together, they worked over many years to petition the

pope to grant the Poor Clares their own special rule.

Agnes is a wonderful example of a holy woman who gave up the glamour of being

“Holy Roman Empress” in order to follow Christ and wed herself to poverty in the style

of Francis and Clare. She was a woman who knew how to get things done, but never at

the expense of others. Although I’m a mother and never had any royal prospects, I

absolutely love Agnes because she is a model of perseverance, gumption and holy

friendship. And if my toddler girls fall in love with her because her silvery crown comes

attached to the halo, then that’s just a bonus.

You can download this drawing as a coloring sheet by clicking here.

St. Catherine of Siena and Me

+JMJ+

FINISHED!

I’m sure you were all waiting with baited breath to see when I would *finnnnnnalllly* finish the “Dialogue” by Catherine of Siena and…

…oh. You weren’t? Okay. Well, that’s fine, too.

I started reading this book way back in January, at the recommendation of my formation director.

You can get the full text here

At first I was really excited. I think the thought process was: “Catherine is a Dominican. I love Dominicans. She’s a Doctor of the Church. I like Doctors of the Church. This is a dialogue. I’ve read Plato’s dialogues and liked most of them…ergo, this should be great!”

It was not like Plato’s dialogues. 
It was like slogging through mud.
At times, it didn’t even “feel” like it was written by* a Dominican. 
Obviously, I am not a holy enough person to read this book. 
Much to my chagrin, I found the text to be incredibly similar in voice and style to The Story of a Soul, the great spiritual work by Therese of Lisieux.    

I had tried reading “Story of a Soul” last year (coincidentally, at the very same time both of my sisters had also picked it up), but again, it was like slogging through really dense, poorly organized, saccharine mud. I actually had to force myself to read it as a discipline, thinking that at least the seeds would be planted and maybe they’d bear fruit later.
Again: I am clearly not holy enough to read these books. 
What the astute blog-follower may notice, however, is that I have also just finished reading “Lay Siege to Heaven,” an historical novel about St. Catherine of Siena by the incredibly talented Louis de Wohl.  
I could  should write an entire post about the great craftsmanship of Mr. de Wohl, but I haven’t the time here.  Suffice it to say that the book was excellent– so excellent in fact that after finishing it, I found it much easier to pick up the “Dialogue” and I even somewhat enjoyed it.  
Why am I writing all this? 
Because I realized something: I may not be spiritually ready to read Catherine or Therese in their own words and really get much out of it. Their personalities are obviously too different from mine. St. Thomas Aquinas may be a dense read– but by golly he’s organized and logical and I loved his stuff the first time I read it. Coming to know who these women are, though, to think about their lives, their historical situations, their families and their friends is a very good way to begin accessing a little bit of their particular expression of “holiness” without being blinded by it. Coming to love St. Catherine through de Wohl, I found myself capable of imagining a person speaking to me through those dense, mud-like pages.  If I was going to find her unintelligible anyway, I might as well picture her as an unintelligible sister. Or a friend. Or a mother.
It made me realize the great value of literature like de Wohl’s– to excite imagination in the way we read and understand the saints so that we can gradually come to imagine the strangest of all phenomena: holiness. God. Christ. The Sacraments. Faith…
This is no new idea– Chesterton, Tolkien, de Saint-Exupery and every hagiographer of any Irish saint EVER knows this. I have been writing some children’s books based on this idea**– but this was the first time I felt the tangible results of what has up until now been just a theory in my heart.  
So thank you, Louis de Wohl. Thank you for introducing me to the great personalities behind some of our greatest saints so that I could hear their words more clearly. I pray that you are already in their ranks. I hope that you’ve had many great conversations with them about your books. 
What are your favorite books about/by saints? Have you ever had trouble learning to love a particular saint? Who resonates with you?
*Okay, so technically, the “Dialogue” was dictated by Catherine while she was in ecstasy, so she didn’t write it. Nor were the words necessarily hers because the claim is that God spoke through her during His part of the Dialogue. But I hope you get what I mean. 
** I’ve already submitted one to publishers– PLEASE pray for me as I continue to pursue this!!

On Naming

+JMJ+

 ST I, Q. 94, Art. 3, s.c.

On the contrary, Man named the animals (Genesis 2:20). But names should be adapted to the nature of things. Therefore Adam knew the animals’ natures; and in like manner he was possessed of the knowledge of all other things.”

This sed contra appears in the Summa in St. Thomas’ discussion of the prelapsarian knowledge of Adam and Eve.  That really doesn’t matter all that much here, except insofar as it gives us a window into how St. Thomas views certain types of names and the act of naming.  The gist of the above quote is that Adam was capable of properly naming each animal in the Garden of Eden according to his perfect knowledge of that animal’s nature.  So in a perfect state, we would be able to know the nature of all animals and call them such.*

This isn’t unlike God’s perfect knowledge of us. Recall the words of Psalm 139 or the beginning of the book of the Prophet Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952G" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(G)”> I knew you, before you were born<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952I" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(I)”> I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952K" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(K)”>” (Jer 1:4-5)

  Or think about our Gospel reading from last Sunday on the Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul:

[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Simon Peter said in reply,“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.And so I say to you, you are Peter,and upon this rock I will build my Church.

When Simon [Peter] is able to correctly identify Jesus for WHO HE IS (that is, the Son of the living God), Jesus turns around and responds in kind:  “You are Peter.”  To be the rock of the Church is Simon Peter’s “nature,” so to speak.  It is his vocation and his special role to play in salvation history.  We see this so many times in the Old Testament: Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel.  These names mean something because they tell us about the nature of the person who holds that name.  The name has been given by God in His perfect knowledge of His creatures and therefore should not be taken lightly.

This is why the naming of children is so important– in an imperfect way, we name our children according to what little of their nature we can perceive (‘boy’ or ‘girl’ is a good starting point) and what we desire for them.  When a Catholic gives their daughter the name “Mary,” this isn’t just because we like the name.  Rather, it should signify that we wish Mary to watch over this child, to guide her and in the best case, for that child to imitate the virtues of Mary to the best of their ability.

Great. 
So what does this have to do with you?

Well, this is how I chose to approach my discernment on choosing a Dominican name (see my previous post if you missed the preliminary discussion!)  I was certain that I would choose “Thomas” as my second name because of my connection with him through prayer and study, but I was still uncertain about a first name (why choose just one if you can have more, right?).  At first, I was entirely set on Cecilia, but after making that decision I still didn’t feel ‘settled’ in the way one wants to with these sorts of decisions. You can read the previous post for more name options, but after a lot of deliberation I finally settled on “Zelie Thomas.”

…But I really didn’t. I submitted the name to my chapter president only to change it because a certain someone kept nagging at me to take her name instead. So I did. Officially.

She’s not a Dominican.
            She’s not a scholar in any technical sense.
                       She doesn’t bear a family name.

 But wow is she awesome. 
Meet: 
Queen Saint Margaret of Scotland!
Reformer of the Scottish Church, 
Mother of eight children, 
Exiled princess of England, 
Devoted reader of the Gospels, 
Friend of the poor and orphans, 
Intercessor for prisoners of war, 
Help of pilgrims,
Skilled craftswoman, 
Clever and just judge, 
Loving wife. 
And so that’s my name: Zelie Margaret. 
I still have a long way to go in terms of understanding what this name means for me, why the Holy Spirit guided me this way (because I do believe that is the case) and what challenges and responsibilities await the new Mrs. Zelie Margaret Valenzuela, OP.  But that’s the fun part, isn’t it? 🙂 
I’ll ask again because it’s fun: what religious name would you choose? 
Or what confirmation name did you choose? Why? 
Which saints have guided you in your life? Have any of them been surprises? 
________________________
* Umm, that’s an awesome super-power.