Sts. Brigid, Clare, Joan of Arc, Lucy, Margaret, Martha, Mary Magdalene and Rita are depicted in a stained-glass window in the mausoleum at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, N.Y. The feast of All Saints is celebrated Nov. 1. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Who is your favorite saint?
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
In our Catholic tradition we observe the month of November as a time of special commemoration of all the faithful departed. November 2 is celebrated each year as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day), but the entire month is a time of consciousness and prayer for all those “who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” Some parishes note this special remembrance prominently displaying the names of parishioners who have died in the previous year. It is an ancient practice to submit to God’s mercy those who have died.
It is not a coincidence, though, that the month commences with a Commemoration of All Saints (All Saints Day, November 1). We honor and esteem all the saints, all those whom we have confidence rest now with God in heaven. The names of these multitudes, for the most part, are known now only by God, but their glory is none less than the great recognized saints of the ages. It is a fitting day then to call to mind those men and women who shaped and formed our faith, lived lives of quiet courage, and who now we are confident rest with God and all the angels.
I have mentioned many times that I enjoy encountering children and young people and inviting their questions to me about God, the Church, and aspects of the faith. One the most frequent questions posed to me is, who are your favorite saints? This list from my heart changes over time, but some remain my favorites, my inspirations.
I always respond that the favorite saint for all believers should be Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church. The Church accentuates this in honoring Mary with special feasts throughout the year. We honor the Annunciation of the Lord, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and the Birth of Mary to name a few. Mary is honored by several titles and feast days as well: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady of Loreto. Some honors afforded to Mary are distinct to particular cultures or nationalities.
I have a special affection for St. Peter, one of the 12 apostles, the one chosen to be the “rock” upon which Jesus chose to build the Church. My special devotion to St. Peter is not because he was the first Bishop of Rome, the first Pope. It is not because the largest church in the world is built over his grave and bears his name. I like St. Peter because of the stories the Gospels recall of his relationship with Jesus. There is story after story of Peter’s shortcomings, the limitations of his faith. “I will never deny you, Lord,” he assured before denying Jesus three times in the hour of his greatest need. He boasted that he would walk on water to meet Jesus on stormy seas – but he sank. Could it be Jesus’ sense of humor that he then named him Peter, which means rock? For all his failings he loved Jesus and Jesus loved him. It must have been a real surprise to the other apostles when Jesus entrusted the keys of the kingdom to one so often broken. Peter’s failings always reassure me about the fate of our Church, that God is in charge and that we are all but imperfect disciples.
St. Francis of Assisi will often make the top 10 favorites of most Catholics. In fact, the cult of St. Francis extends beyond Catholic boundaries because of the love he manifested for all of creation, speaking of brother sun and sister moon and the dignity he afforded animals. Though born into a wealthy family he experienced a profound conversion and denounced all earthly possessions. Surprisingly many of his contemporaries were attracted to his simple life and love for the poor. Even within his short lifetime, he died at age 45, he began to send his followers out to spread the Gospel. When Argentine Jorge Bergoglio found himself elected by the College of Cardinals to be pope in 2013, he had but moments to choose the name by which he would be known. The cardinal sitting beside him whispered, “Do not forget the poor.” Bergoglio later related that it was at this moment he chose the name Francis. My middle name is Francis and I was baptized and grew up in St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
In 2001 I had a chance to travel in pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. I knew the basic outlines of the story of the apparitions of Mary to a young 14-year-old girl, who was from a poor family, was sickly due to malnutrition, and because of her family’s destitution illiterate. There pilgrims trace the story of St. Bernadette from her birthplace to the abandoned jail where her family lived, to the cave where she encountered a beautiful woman, to her discovery of the spring of water to which Mary led her. The trials and ridicule she and her family experienced as she sought to honor the Blessed Mother’s directives shaped her as a saint. St. Bernadette’s story unfolded with the apparitions in 1858 so this story is not ancient history in the Church’s long story. Lourdes became almost instantaneously famous which accounts for the preservation of places from the times of St. Bernadette. But this very fame was difficult for the young girl, and she left the village to join a convent in Nevers, France and to live a cloistered life.
May I invite you to consider your favorite saints? If you do not have any favorites read about the saints or Google them. They can lead us to Jesus.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the November 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.