The Catholic veneration of saints is a distinctive and frequently misunderstood aspect of the Church. Why does Catholicism have such an attachment to the saints? How does a particular saint become connected to a place, vocation or situation? John Paul Meenan, assistant professor of theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, explains.
The Church canonizes some of her faithful as 'saints' — those who lived a Christian life more perfectly, practising charity in a 'heroic' way. This is done for two reasons. First, so they may act as exemplars for the rest of us on how to live a Christian life more perfectly, above and beyond the bare minimum. Second, the saints also act as intercessors, so that we may pray to — or more properly through them — to the Triune God, so that "Christ may be glorified in His saints" (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
Every canonized saint may also act as a 'patron' of some aspect of the Christian life, whether this be for particular places, dioceses, parishes, needs, purposes, vocations or anything else that may be required for salvation.
For more official purposes, such as for the patron of a diocese, these patrons are chosen through the Holy See — specifically the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments — in dialogue with the diocese and the local church. The saint decided upon is usually in accord with its people and history. For example, my own diocese of Pembroke, in eastern Ontario, was first populated by Irish immigrants; hence, the choice of Saint Columbkille, the great missionary who brought the Faith from Ireland into Scotland via the isle of Iona (a small island that was once the burial ground of kings but is today a popular Catholic retreat location).
The Holy Father may also choose patrons, such as: Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of the Americas, as well as the unborn; Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as the patron of youth; Saint Thomas Aquinas of Catholic schools and education; and so on.
Then there are the not really formally approved patrons who are adopted by custom and tradition, such as, Saint Veronica, as the patron of photographers, for the perfect 'icon' left on her veil. There is also Joseph of Cupertino, patron of test-takers, a struggling seminarian, who knew only one Scriptural passage for his final exam before ordination; and wouldn't you know, it was just the very one the bishop providentially chose!
Parents choose a patron for their children, in the name they bestow at baptism, which should laudably be the name of a saint, or at least not "foreign to Christian sentiment," and, years later, the same young people choose their own confirmation sponsor to help guide them through life. I would add the custom of adopting the saint on one's baptismal day — our spiritual birthday, along with our natural one — as fitting intercessors and exemplars. Of course, we should add our guardian angel, whose names, as Samson's parents were told, are 'mysterious,' for powerful they are indeed.
Then we may choose our own patrons saints for all that life entails, for our houses, our schools, our sports teams. Quebec, the most historically Catholic of our provinces, is filled with towns, cities, villages and streets named after saints. These are now often, ironically, decided by secular municipal councils across Canada; hence, why there are fewer saints connected to recently-named Canadian places. Although there is a back road I know of, which, by vote, was not long ago named after the Sacred Heart.
We may even choose patron saints for a particular occasion, such as: a journey; a marriage; expectant mothers (Saint Gerard!); a funeral; a hike; a get-together; or a pilgrimage. There are the popular go-to saints, such as: Anthony for lost objects; Jude for desperate causes; Peregrine for cancer patients; Joseph for the universal Church and a happy death; Our Lady, well, for just about everything!
In this fair dominion, we should develop a devotion to Saint Joseph as the patron of Canada. We should also recognize the eight Jesuit martyrs — Jean de Brébeuf and his companions — as our nation's secondary patrons. Then there is, of course, the mighty Saint Michael looking over the Archdiocese of Toronto, its cathedral and all of its apostolic work.
In this time of grace, we should adopt patron saints for all our needs, for the whole panoply of saints are waiting to hear from and intercede for us. For the kingdom of God is not far off, but all around us, in our very midst.
And, I might add, a blessed Easter season to one and all. Christus surrexit vere, alleluia!
Beth Porter is the author of Accidental Friends: Stories from my Life in Community, a book that chronicles her experiences living in a L'Arche community, along with her interactions with Jean Vanier, with whom she worked on educational projects. In L'Arche communities people with and without intellectual disabilities live and learn together with dignity.
1. What was the most rewarding part of living in a L'Arche community?
For me, there were two very rewarding parts of living in community: the feeling of living life with authenticity and the friendships I share. I have developed friendships with people who are very different from me in some respects, but also amazingly welcoming and "whole," and who call me to be in the present moment with them.
(Photo courtesy of L'Arche Canada)
2. What initially motivated you to join L'Arche?
I heard Jean Vanier speak to university audiences in the 1970s and was moved by his message, which was inspired by the Beatitudes, and by his ability to be intensely present. (A friend commented, "He has eyes like vacuum cleaners!") I was also drawn by Jean's spirituality and his practical wisdom in his early books. In 1980, when I read Community and Growth, it struck me that Jean knew how to create stable, caring communities rooted in the values expressed by Jesus. I decided to visit the L'Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ont., near where I was living. That was in 1980. I soon returned and stayed!
3. You worked with Jean Vanier. What was that like?
After 2000, I worked with Jean and Greg Rogers of the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the ministries of education in Ontario and Alberta to bring Jean's message to high school students. Jean loved being with young people. He sent WE Day messages urging students to change the world for the better and to do this with others. When he visited, he spoke to a large student forum and we made two short films of students in conversation with Jean about their future. We usually communicated via the Internet. In later years, Jean invited my editorial input on some items. He incorporated suggestions and was always guided by what was most pastoral.
4. Can you describe how you witnessed Jean living out his guiding principles in community?
Jean was a man of prayer. When he was visiting us or I was in France, very early, before others were up, I would notice him in the chapel immersed in silent prayer. Jean would be intensely present to whoever he was speaking with. I think his habit of prayer helped him in this. He trusted God and was not distracted.
He grew and mellowed over the years, and he became more deeply convinced that the world needs the L'Arche message: that each person, whatever their ability, has a gift to contribute.
He remained in touch with what was happening in the wider world. The last time I visited him, soon after an election here, he opened by asking, "So, how is Canada?"
Fr. Stephan Kappler is the CEO and chief psychologist at Southdown, a centre dedicated to helping religious and clergy with addictions and mental health issues. Below, he shares an overview of Christian meditation and how it can help us to connect with God.
1. What is the goal of Christian meditation?
As Catholics, we turn to the teaching of our Church to learn about our faith. In the Church's teaching, namely in the Catechism of our Church, we are reminded that three expressions of personal prayer are recognized: vocal prayer, meditation and contemplative prayer. While many of us grew up well-versed in vocal prayers, the practice of meditation and contemplation is still something that many Catholics are just discovering — or perhaps re-discovering. Prayer is never just a "sheer multiplication of words," as Jesus reminds us, but an invitation to seek closer union with God. In vocal prayer, we are in active communication with the Lord, talking to/with Him, but in meditation we are invited to listen. Psalm 46:10 states, "Be still and know that I am God." God is our refuge, our light, our strength. Meditation is the practice of being still, the practice of listening with our heart, and knowing that God and God's love are real and present in our lives.
2. How does a Christian meditate? Meditation engages "thought, imagination, emotion and desire," the Catechism tells us. In other words, it is a beautiful, holistic prayer that wants to engage all of our senses. Find a comfortable place — indoors or outdoors — give thanks to God for the moment, listen, breathe and be attentive. Seek a long, intimate and loving look at God. Use the beauty of nature, the words of sacred Scripture, the glow of a candle, the light radiating from the Blessed Sacrament, or anything that speaks to your heart and sharpens your awareness so as to bring you into closer union with God. 3. What is the role of the mantra, Maranatha? The well-known Maranatha is an Aramaic word from sacred Scripture, which means "the Lord is coming." Like any mantra, it is a sacred word that is recited continuously in the heart and in the mind. The repeated nature of that word draws us into the power of the Holy Spirit and ushers us into the heart of Jesus. "Be still and know that I am God" can be one of those mantras. A person would focus on the words, "be still and know that I am God…be still and know that I am…be still and know…be still." 4. What are the benefits of Christian meditation – both spiritually and physically? As a priest psychologist, I have seen the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of meditation. Closer union with the Sacred, increased intimacy with God and a deeper relationship with Jesus all help ground a person in love. Reduced anxiety, improved mood, a growing attitude of gratitude and reduced stress are among the many benefits.
Kalore Cao remembers the moment that sparked her interest in Catholicism.
"Visiting the British Museum and encountering the ancient religious paintings made me believe there is a spirituality that is beyond human understanding and the materialistic world," says Cao, who was baptized into the Catholic Church in 2015. Cao's family is mainly influenced by the Buddhist faith and Chinese communist values. "From that point onwards seven years ago, I started thinking about the meaning of life and got interested in the faith."
This experience with religious art marked the beginning of her journey to Catholicism, which led her to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Scarborough.
Iconographer Marianna Savaryn, left, stands with Kalore Cao, right, at the Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at the University of Toronto's St. Michael's College, where Cao studied iconography techniques.
Every year, a convert's road to the faith culminates in their being received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. In 2018, approximately 1.500 people became Catholic in the Archdiocese of Toronto.
For Cao, art is the common thread woven throughout her path to Catholicism. She is currently studying illustration at OCAD University, and learned to create illustrations of icons under guidance from the Discalced Carmelite friars in Canada.
"The Provincial Delegate of the Discalced Carmelites order, Fr. Dominic Borg, introduced and encouraged me to write the icon as it is the 'window to heaven' that brings divine knowledge to the people. I enjoy sharing the faith through the images as they convey the direct message, which is a great tool for Gospel proclamation."
It was also the Church's focus on charity that appealed to her. "The dedicated religious sisters who sacrificially undertook so many social works in society greatly attracted me to Catholicism. By imitating their charitable deeds, I believe more justice can be brought to this world."
Looking forward, Cao is exploring the possibility of offering activities for Catholic students at her university.
"Converting to Catholicism is not the end of the spiritual journey, but a milestone of the truth-seeking process."
Fr. Stephan Kappler is the CEO and Chief Psychologist at Southdown, a centre dedicated to addressing the needs of religious and clergy around addictions and mental health issues. Below, he shares the path that led him to Southdown, along with the impact of faith on our mental health.
1. Can you share with us your journey to Southdown?
My journey started many years ago in Munich, Germany. I attended the Seminary of the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising. I eventually used an approved year abroad to enroll at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, California, where I quickly fell in love with the diversity, multi-cultural character, and actively-lived faith of the Catholic Church in the U.S. I was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Oakland on May 28, 1994. I returned to university and earned a doctorate in Clinical Psychology. For the last five years, I managed my own clergy-focused mental health practice in Oakland, while ministering as pastor at an urban parish. When the call came from Southdown, I felt very blessed to take on leadership of such a well-known, high quality organization that serves clergy and religious in Canada, the U.S., and around the globe.
2. Why is a place like Southdown important? Catholics love their hard-working, faith-filled, dedicated priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and seminarians. With fewer numbers, and with the ever-present, manifold stressors, help and support is very much needed. When professional support is required, a safe, welcoming, and holistic place like Southdown is an essential piece in seeking health of mind, body, and spirit.
3. How can faith help to improve mental health?
Over the past fifteen years, research consistently tells us that individuals who practice their faith, who are actively on a spiritual path, live healthier lives. Faith helps us with a sense of purpose and meaning, a deep sense of resilience, a sense of belonging to a community, and with overall trust in life.4. How can Catholics weave faith-based tools into their daily routines for improved mental health?
Taking time for prayer, fostering an attitude of gratitude, living a mindful life, practicing loving kindness toward self and others, meditation, prayerful journaling, using the psalms as a mantra in moments of anxiety (e.g. Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?), and making time to recognize God's unconditionally loving presence are useful steps for healthy mental/emotional health.5. Anything else to add on the link between faith and mental health?
Seeing meaning and purpose in our lives is key; knowing we are not alone on our journeys is key; feeling loved and accepted is key. Our Catholic faith tells us: God loves us unconditionally. That love we experience in the presence of Our Lord Jesus, our companion on this life's journey. Holding on to Our Lord's embrace can help us through any dark valley.
Erin Kinsella is the Director of Campus Ministry at the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto. She is launching the 54 Fridays initiative this Friday, March 8. Below, she shares an overview and tips on how to get involved.
1. What is 54 Fridays?
54 Fridays is an invitation to holiness. Participants are asked to pray and fast every Friday (excluding those that are solemnities) from the first Friday of Lent 2019 until Easter 2020 specifically for the intention of personal holiness and holiness of all the members of the Body of Christ. People are encouraged to do it with a partner or in a small group so that the length of the initiative is something that can be sustained through mutual encouragement.
2. How did the idea come to you?The idea came out of prayer and a sense of wanting to do something to support the Church I love in the midst of all the struggles present at this current time in our history. It isn't limited to issues of abuse (although it is certainly a response to them), but extends to issues of persecution in parts of the world, in the challenge of evangelization in increasingly secular cultures, issues of freedom of speech and religion, and any other challenge you can think of. A common response to all of them is simply holiness. Without it, we can change structures and policies, but it will not be lasting and effective change. With it, hearts become conformed to Christ and God can more freely accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished in His Church. We are all called to Sainthood, and 54 Fridays is an invitation to it.
3. You've started a Facebook group to encourage people to get involved locally. What the feedback has been like so far?
I've been off Facebook for about 3 years, but I reactivated my account specifically to be able to get more traction for this initiative. In just over a week, there were over 200 people who joined the group. Most of them are people that I don't even know! Those in the group have shared it with others they know, and I also invited people from various Facebook groups to participate. I know there are also a number of people who are not on Facebook who are also participating, so it's been exciting to see that there is a real desire from people to do something that is a very significant commitment. There are a lot of people who love the Church so dearly and want to participate in caring for Her, but aren't sure how, and this is certainly one very effective way. Jesus Himself commends prayer and fasting because they are powerful spiritual tools. In truth, they are something we're called to engage in on Fridays anyways. 54 Fridays just asks people to pray with a common intention, but also offers an opportunity to those who may not regularly pray and fast to make it a part of their lives.
4. How will you personally live out the call to fasting and prayer for 54 Fridays?
I will personally be living out this call to prayer and fasting by praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet Fridays for the intention of personal holiness and the holiness of all the members of the Body of Christ. My fast will be both in terms of food, but I'll also be fasting from connection on Fridays, meaning I won't be using anything relying on the internet (aside from work purposes) so that I can make more space for silence and prayer. I'm doing 54 Fridays with three other women. We formed a small group in the fall, and they've been a huge support to me (and I hope it's the other way around as well!).
5. What do you hope to achieve?
By taking part, I want to witness to my love of the Church in doing this with others, but most of all I want to grow in holiness. The more my heart belongs to Jesus, the more disposed I am to whatever His call is in my life. St Catherine of Sienna said, "Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire." My deepest desire is to be holy so that when people meet me, they meet Christ in me, and I know prayer and fasting support that desire.
6. If people want to get involved and connect with those taking part locally, how can they join in?
If people want to join in, they can find the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/54Fridays/. They are also welcome to email me with any questions at email@example.com. They are encouraged to undertake this time with a partner or a small group so that they can pray together and support each other, whether it's in person or not. In person, communal prayer is certainly amazing if that can happen, but mutual support in terms of reminding each other Friday has arrived, sharing graces that come out of fasting, etc., will be helpful even if they don't happen in person. I'll be posting articles, quotes and other helpful items regularly on Facebook, and people are welcome to email me if they have ideas of things to share.
Have a craving for pancakes or something sweet? Hurry. You may be running out of time.
Catholics and people in the Christian tradition will soon enter into the season of Lent – a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in anticipation of the great celebration of Easter.
For some parishes and groups from across the Archdiocese of Toronto, they will be marking the change in liturgical season and the start of Ash Wednesday with pancakes, sugar and other sweet items.
Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday – the official start of the Lenten season. Throughout the years, many people have asked about the significance and origin of Shrove Tuesday.
The word Shrove is derived from the English word "Shriven," which means to seek repentance and forgiveness for the actions that we have committed, encouraging people to go to reconciliation. In countries throughout the world, Shrove Tuesday celebrations can look quite different.
In North America, particularly New Orleans, Louisiana or other cities, revellers have come to celebrate Shrove Tuesday as 'Mardi Gras' – translated from French which means 'Fat Tuesday.' People can be seen dancing, singing and most commonly, eating, ahead of a 40-day period of prayer and fasting. Shrove Tuesday was also a time for many people to use up all the supplies that they have, in preparation for a season of fasting. That included eggs, flour, sugar, cream and anything else considered decadent.
Throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto, parishes celebrated the lead up to Lent with Shrove Tuesday celebrations of their own - including both Holy Rosary and St. Edward the Confessor Parishes (Central), Precious Blood (Eastern) and St. Justin Martyr (Northern).
For Arnold Lee Wah of Markham, Ont., Shrove Tuesday is one celebration he doesn't pass up.
"I look forward to it each year," Lee Wah said. "It's an opportunity to think about the coming Lenten season and to celebrate our beliefs and traditions as a community of faith, while nourishing our souls and tummies."
Lee Wah is a fourth-degree member of the Knights of Columbus. His council helped to serve up pancakes at his parish in Markham, Ont.
At Precious Blood Parish in Scarborough, Youth Minister Chico Nuguid was busy serving up plenty of sugar and fatty pancakes to his parishioners and families, in anticipation of the start of Lent. He believes that the celebration of Shrove Tuesday is a teaching moment for all in and out of the Church.
"I really appreciate how something as simple as pancakes can bring the parish family together in fellowship and service," Nuguid said.
"It allows us the opportunity to step back and think about the spiritual journey we are about to begin."
Maria and Vince Luca have been married for 42 years, with four daughters and seven grandchildren. Members of the Focolare's New Family Movement, the couple reflects on their journey together in light of Marriage Sunday, taking place on Sunday, February 10. To celebrate, they'll be in attendance at the Celebration of Marriage Mass with Cardinal Collins.
1. Why did you join the Focolare Movement? During our engagement, we experienced the happiness of falling in love. We were imagining how wonderful our life together would be, always in love, having many children and not too many problems. We can still remember our first year of marriage when life together was very beautiful, however, we could see our shortcomings and the incompatibility of our personalities. We began to think that the dream of a perfect marriage might not be achieved as easily as we thought. Soon after, we met people who lived the spirituality of unity of the Focolare, and we were impressed with the way that they put the Gospel into practice. We felt called to do the same.
2. Can you describe the work of the New Family Movement?We try to live the Focolare's spirituality of unity, "That they may all be one" (John 17:21) concretely in our own families. By coming together on a regular basis, we help each other as we try to be a light to other couples. Retreat days, talks on family issues and many informal events help us to grow in our relationship with God as well as work toward the unity of the whole human family.
3. How has being a part of the lay movement impacted your relationship as a couple?
It has had a huge impact. In the early stage of our marriage, we began to meet with a group of Focolare families. Our journey together helped us to love each other more deeply, along with those with whom we came in contact. After being married for a year or two, our dream of having a large family seemed to be shattered when we found out that we would not be able to have children. When we first heard this news, it was very difficult for us but little by little, as we shared it with these very close friends, they gave us courage and we were able to see this suffering as God's will for us. However, God's love is never outdone in generosity because, soon after, we were expecting our first child and three more followed.
4. Do you have any advice for married couples? Here are some points that have helped us overcome small and, at times, big difficulties.
January 24 is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of media. Below, John Paul Meenan, Assistant Professor of Theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, explains the significance of this well-known saint.
Why is St. Francis de Sales known as the patron saint of the media?
St. Francis de Sales was appointed Bishop of Geneva in 1602, then the centre of Calvinism. Over the two decades of his ministry, he utilized with great effectiveness the new media of his time, the printing press, sending out untold numbers of persuasive pamphlets, books and tracts, along with his sermons. This, along with the sheer sanctity of the man, a fruit of lifelong prayer and discipline, helped convert tens of thousands of people to the fullness of Catholic truth.
How did his use of media at the time – pamphlets and books – help to effect cultural change?
St. Francis was brought up in a well-to-do noble household, and given the best education available, to which he responded with a generous and zealous soul and mind. This made him a very effective thinker and writer. His father intended him to become a magistrate, inherit his fortune and marry well, but Francis, after a spiritual struggle, consecrated his life Christ through Our Lady, determined to become a priest and save souls. Ordained in 1593, he turned many away from error by his eloquent words and arguments, which were not condemnatory, as was oft the custom at the time, but by the charity, good sense and moderation of his words – not least his Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God, still immensely readable, applicable and popular to this day.
In today's world, how can Catholics use media to have a positive impact on modern culture?
The Church, especially in the Second Vatican Council, has encouraged Catholics to utilize the media to evangelize, not just with more formal and big-budget projects, such as books and films, but, especially in this connected age where everyone has access to 'media,' by all that we read, watch, write or post. At the very least, Catholics should have vigilance over what they consume, avoiding anything base or evil, itself a form of witness. But we are also called to produce works – regardless of how apparently insignificant, every article, essay, email, text and photo – that will in some way lead others to truth, goodness and beauty. Adopt the fine manners of St. Francis, who saw in each person a soul to be 'saved,' to be led gently to the fullness of truth which Christ offers. To paraphrase the good bishop: 'We attract more souls with a spoonful of honey than with a barrelful of vinegar.' With St. Francis and all the myriad of saints, we may well be surprised at what good we may accomplish.
St. Francis died on December 28, 1622, was canonized by Pope Alexander VII in 1665, and was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1877. He continues to be one of the most exemplary models for priests and bishops – as well as an excellent guide for the laity – to this day. Saint Francis, ora pro nobis (pray for us)!
The Pope's Message for the World Day of Social Communications 2019, released on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, is "We are members one of another" (Ephesians 4:25) From social network communities to the human community. To read the full text of the Pope's address, visit http://bit.ly/SocialCommunicationsMessage.