As regular (or even occasional) readers of this blog know, the saints occupy an important places in my life. The communion of saints is an important image for me – a reminder that we are never alone in our spiritual journay – and I’ve written here about many individual saints who have been friends, models and companions on my spiritual journey.
Because of my own relationship with some powerful individuals we call saints, I am always interested in other people’s accounts of saints that matter to them. I’ve mentioned before Fr. Jim Martin’s My Life with the Saints as one such account well worth reading. Another that I just finished reading is The Saints in My Life, by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, sent to me by the Catholic Company as part of its reviewer program. Another really good read.
Fr. Groeschel and I share a number of favorites – more than half of the nineteen he incldues in his book would make my “top twenty” list, including Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). But he also introduced me to one saint I knew nothing at all about (Catherine of Genoa) and even with respect to a couple I knew a bit about (e.g. the basic story of St. Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal), he provided some addition details.
Each chapter includes a brief description of the life of the saint in question, explanation of the meaning of the life of the saint for Fr. Groeschel (why they are friends, how they have influenced him, etc.) and, for most some prayer or other piece of writing of that saint.
The descriptions of the saints themselves are very reporter-like. These aren’t stories of the saints, but a factual account of their lives. While interesting and a source of information, more compelling for me were the parts of each chapters that addressed the significance of the saint to the Fr. Groeschel. These were much more personal and gave a more inspiring picture of the saint than the more biographical portions of the chapter did. So together, they make for really good reading.
The book also contains some wonderful reminders and truths about the lives of the saints and how we relate to them. First, to expand a comment Fr. Groeschel makes about Francis: the world often tries to tame saints. In Francis’ case, the tendency is to “reduce him ot the patron saint of birdbaths, to see him as merely a great animal lover or (more fashionably) as an ecologist” and to ignore exactly how radical he was. I think we do that with others as well – we take the nice little pieces of the lives of saints as something to emulate, often at the cost of ignoring their broader message, which often is a much more radical emptying of self for God and others.
Second, he reminds us that shapes come in all saints and sizes and from all walks of life – lay as well as ordained, women as well as male, simple as well as educated, rich as well as poor. God takes us all as he finds us and can work with that, whatever it is. The related point is that our own measure of success in our spiritual lives is not: were we as much Francis as Francis, or as much Thomas More as Thomas More. It is, rather, how did we use the particular gifts God gave us.
Third, with respect to almost all of the saints, Fr. Groeschel talks about some turning point in the life of the saints. Again, for me it is an important reminder that those we call saints weren’t born sinless or perfect. They had points of conversion, incidents or events or circumstances that helped them turn more deeply toward God. And we do as well.
All in all, a nice read that I think many will enjoy.