Halloween is the Eve before we celebrate the Hallowed (Saints). In honor of this feast, which occurs the day this post appears, I offer you two excerpts from my book I Am Going … : Reflections on the Last Words of the Saints. Originally published by ACTA, the book is now available for $14.95 from St. Mary’s Press (www.smp.org, 800-533-8095) and from me ([email protected]). A pleasant surprise was that ACTA (based in Chicago) hired an artist to create the exquisite black line drawings that enhance the text. Coincidentally, two people at St. Dominic Parish (in Ohio) where I worked approached me and said the artist was their relative. Enjoy ….
Saint Bernadette (1844–1879) Virgin, Religious April 16
Saint Bernadette was the oldest of five children in a destitute family in France. She suffered from asthma and other ailments and had difficulty learning the catechism. Yet, at age fourteen she was favored with the first of eighteen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. Mary asked that a chapel be built at the site. Today millions visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, many hoping for a cure through its healing waters. Saint Bernadette became a humble sister who worked in the convent infirmary and sacristy until she died of tuberculosis.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner.”
Reflection: Mary, Refuge of Sinners
After a pilgrimage to Lourdes, a priest presented his young nephew with a statue of Mary. The boy placed the image of Mary next to his bed and declared that she would protect him. “From what?” asked the uncle. “From monsters,” the boy replied.
Just as the boy counted on Mary for protection, Saint Bernadette invoked the help of the Mother of God at the frightening hour of her death. It’s no surprise that she did so. After all, Bernadette knew Our Lady personally and had witnessed her motherly concern for us. The Blessed Virgin visited earth in order to establish a place of healing for the sick and to remind us to do penance and pray for sinners. She showed that she has a mother’s heart for us, the brothers and sisters of her divine son.
What may be puzzling, though, is that the saint called herself a poor sinner. What sins did Saint Bernadette ever have to confess in her short life? She had been a good, obedient child and had been kind to her siblings. After the miraculous encounters, she shunned publicity and took refuge in a convent. There she lived in self-effacement, saying, “What does one do with a broom when one has finished sweeping? Why, put it in the corner.” Perhaps Bernadette described herself as a poor sinner because, having beheld Mary, a woman who was sinless since her conception, she realized that by comparison she was a sinner, tainted by original and personal sin.
Like Saint Bernadette, we can look to our heavenly mother Mary when we are dying. She ushered her husband and her son into the next life. She will also be with us. Each time we pray the Hail Mary we ask her to pray for us at the hour of our death. When we pray the rosary, as Bernadette did during Mary’s visits, we ask this fifty times! Good mother that Mary is, she will not refuse us.
What virtue do you most admire in Mary? Ask your heavenly mother to pray that you have the grace to practice that virtue in your own life. Right now pray a Hail Mary slowly and thoughtfully.
Saint Francis Xavier (1506–1552) Priest, Religious December 3
Born in Spain of a noble family, Saint Francis studied at the University of Paris where he met Saint Ignatius, a fellow student. One day, quoting Jesus, Saint Ignatius asked Francis, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” This prompted Francis to channel his leadership qualities and ambition into teaching people about God. He and five others joined Saint Ignatius to form the Company of Jesus (Jesuits). After his ordination, Saint Francis became a missionary in India, Malaysia, and Japan. While on the voyage to fulfill his dream of ministering to China, he became ill and died on an island within sight of his goal.
Reflection: The Holy Name of Jesus
In the fifteenth century Saint Bernardine preached throughout Italy, promoting devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. He carried with him a wooden tablet that bore a painted monogram of the Holy Name (IHS) encircled by sunrays. This monogram was created from the Greek word for Jesus. Bernardine used the tablet in blessing the sick and working miracles. Through his efforts, the word Jesus was added to the Hail Mary. The Jesuit logo is composed of Saint Bernardine’s emblem with the addition of a cross and three nails.
We can only imagine the challenges and disappointments Saint Francis Xavier endured in the Far East. One hardship he keenly felt was the loneliness of separation from his fellow Jesuits. To ease this loneliness, he used to cut their signatures from their letters and pin them inside his clothes. Focusing on Jesus and praying to him brought him comfort and the stamina to persevere. Jesus was his all. If Francis lived today, he would probably have a tattoo of the Holy Name. It was Jesus the Lord he was serving. He preached and acted in the name of Jesus. He spent himself introducing others to Jesus. Why? Because he loved Jesus more than all the attractions the world had to offer.
Francis was a faithful Jesuit, a “companion of Jesus.” What better way then for such a Christ-centered life to end than by uttering the name of Jesus? St. Francis Xavier had not gained the world, but he had saved his soul…and the souls of countless others.
Pray the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus. Offer it for the intention of missionaries.
• Who is your favorite saint? Why?