|I don't know what I would have done without the saints in bringing up our large family. Long before our children could memorize the Apostle's Creed and pronounce, "I believe in the Communion of Saints," they were already participating in it. Very early they had learned that the Communion of
Saints is one large, happy family whose members have one thing in common: they want to go to heaven. Some of them, like ourselves, are still living here on earth, working hard to reach the goal. Very many, however, have already reached it. These are our big sisters and brothers, the saints.
And there is still another group. As Our Lord has said once that nothing unclean can enter the Kingdom of Heaven, most of the souls, after they leave the body in death, are not found ready and have to be purified in Purgatory from the last stain of sin. Even while suffering, these souls
are happy because they know that, for them, time with its great dangers is over and soon they will be forever united with their Lord and God.
"Be ye perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect," says Our Lord, and "This is the will of God--your sanctification," explains St. Paul. We mothers cannot begin early enough to make it seem quite natural to our little ones that we all--they and we--must strive to become saints just like....And this is where our big sisters and brothers enter in. The most precious thing about the saints is that they were not born that way. They had their faults just as all of us do, and they had to work hard to
overcome them. Some of them were quick-tempered like St. Peter or St. Francis de Sales; some even lied and stole and cheated their mother, as St. Augustine tells us about himself; some were quite wicked, like St. Paul or Mary Magdalene; others were meek and mild from the beginning,
like little St. Therese and Dominico Savio. We parents could learn from the great eagerness with which the children take to certain TV programs or movies with Hopalong Cassidy or other popular performers that every young soul is a hero-worshipper. Children simply need someone to look up
to, to imitate. Well, there is no Hollywood hero who could not be easily outdone by one of the saints. Among that very large number of our big sisters and brothers who "made it" there is one for every kind of child.
There are the Old Testament saints. Some of their stories are more exciting than all of Grimm's fairy tales. Think of the stories of Abraham when he goes up the mountain to sacrifice his only son; of King David and King Solomon; the prophet Jeremiah; Daniel in the lion's den; and Tobias with his friend, Raphael; not to forget our saintly first parents, Adam and Eve, whose feast the Church celebrates on the vigil of the birth of Our Lord, December 24th. There are the stories of the holy women--Judith,
Ruth, and Esther; that exciting adventure story of Joseph in Egypt; and the harrowing tale of Job on the dunghill.
Then there are the New Testament saints--all the Apostles and the holy women. There are the many heroes from the time when Christianity was an underground movement the martyrs of the first centuries, especially the young ones--the boy Tarcisius, who was killed as he was carrying the
Blessed Sacrament secretly to the prisoners in Rome, the girls Agnes and Philomene and Cecilia. There are rich saints like King Louis of France and Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and Queen Margaret of Scotland. There are poor saints like Francis of Assisi and Benedict Joseph Labre. There are
saints who were sick most of their lives, like Lydwina. There are saints who were famous for their jokes and laughter, like Philip Neri and Don Bosco. When we turn the pages of one of the books with a daily story about one of the saints, we find that there were holy boys and girls, holy mothers and fathers, holy lawyers, doctors, slaves, popes and priests, farmers and swineherds, tailors and bakers--just "holy everybody," as one of our children once said.
My husband had once taken great pains to tell a beautiful fairy tale to the children. When he had finished, the oldest asked, "Is all of that true, Father?" Slightly embarrassed, he had to admit that it was not, whereupon the child said, "Why did you tell us, then?" Often afterwards, when we came across tales of saints who had spent their lives sitting on a column, such as Simon the Stilite, or who flew through the air like Joseph of Cupertino, we would say that as a story this equaled any fairy
tale but had the added advantage of standing the crucial test, "Father, was that true?"
First of all a child must be acquainted with his own patron saints, whose names were given to him at his baptism. Later on he will also learn about the patron saints in his immediate family, and in a large family like ours this will amount to a great number of stories. Then, by and by, as the child grows up and hears more about these big sisters and brothers, he will add some of his own liking. I told my children always to look for saints who had the same troubles and the same faults as they did and then
to ask his or her intercession. He must know how it is. Whereupon one day one of the little ones said to me, "Mother, I know now why you choose St. Peter as your favorite saint. He could get so mad that he once even cut somebody's ear off!"
Throughout the centuries Christian people have adopted this same policy.
They have searched in the lives of the saints and have chosen certain
ones as patrons for certain ailments. There is, for instance, a group of
fourteen saints particularly famous for their prompt intercession in
special cases, known as the Fourteen Holy Helpers (Fourteen Auxiliary
Saints). Here is the list, together with the attributes by which they are
characterized in painting and sculpture.
(1) St. George (April 23rd), soldier-martyr. Always represented with the
dragon he strikes down. He is invoked against the devil, and together
with St. Sebastian and St. Maurice he is the patron of soldiers.
(2) St. Blaise (February 3rd), bishop, carries two candles crossed; he is
invoked against diseases of the throat.
(3) St. Erasmus (June 2nd), martyr. His entrails are wound around a
windlass. He is invoked against diseases of the stomach. Patron of
(4) St. Pantaleon (July 27th), bishop. He is recognized by his nailed
hands. Invoked against consumption. Together with St. Luke and Saints
Cosmas and Damien, patron of doctors.
(5) St. Vitus (June 15th), martyr. He is recognized by his cross. Invoked
against St. Vitus' dance and the bite of poisonous or mad animals.
(6) St. Christopher (July 25th), bears the Infant Jesus on his shoulder.
Invoked in storms and against accidents in travel.
(7) St. Denis (October 9th), bishop, holds his head in his hands. Invoked
for people who are possessed by a devil.
(8) St. Cyriacus (August 8th), martyr, wears deacon's vestments. Invoked
against diseases of the eye.
(9) St. Acathius (May 8th), martyr, wears a crown of thorns. Invoked
(10) St. Eustace (September 20th), martyr, wears hunting clothes and is
shown with a stag. Invoked against fire--temporal and eternal. Patron of
(11) St. Giles (September 1st) , hermit, is recognized by his Benedictine
habit and his hind. Invoked against panic, epilepsy, madness, and
(12) St. Margaret (July 20th), martyr, keeps a dragon in chains. Invoked
against pains in the loins. Patron for women in childbirth.
(13) St. Barbara (December 4th), martyr, is recognized by her tower and
the ciborium. Invoked against sudden death. Patron of artillery men and
(14) St. Catherine (November 25th), martyr, is shown with a broken wheel.
Invoked by students, philosophers, orators, and barristers as "the wise
In the old country, a picture of the Fourteen Holy Helpers is to be found
in many a little wayside shrine or impressive pilgrimage church, such as
Vierzehn-Heiligen in Bavaria.
|It cannot be stressed enough that perhaps the most important books in the home, after Holy Scriptures, are those dealing with the lives of the saints. Besides the classic Butler, there are other collections. We always liked Omer Englebert's "The Lives of the Saints," (New York, David
McKay Co.) which gives the story of several saints for every day, thus providing one with many "true stories." Looking through those "Lives" becomes more and more fascinating as we realize the many links uniting these people of long ago with us in the twentieth century. To my amazement I discovered that there is a patron saint for practically every profession--though we have to distinguish between saints appointed by the people themselves and others appointed by Rome.
Thus the Holy Father, Pius XII, named St. Michael the patron of policemen, St. Albert the Great
as patron for scientists, St. Alphonse Liguori as patron of Confessors, and St. Catherine of Siena as patron of nurses. He appointed Our Lady under her title of the Immaculate Conception as patroness of the soldiers of the United States, while his predecessor, Pius XI, made St. Therese of Lisieux patron of all missionaries, St. Aloysius patron of all young people, the famous Cure of Ars, St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, the patron of parish priests. What I myself like best of all is that Rome
appointed Our Lady of Loretto the patroness of aviators (obviously because she steered successfully the holy house of Nazareth through the air and had it land in Loretto, Italy, where it has been venerated since the Middle Ages).
Besides these "appointments" of patron saints, there are many chosen by the people. I never could find out why St. Anthony of Padua (June 13th) has to find lost objects for everybody around the globe or why St. Matthew (February 24th) is the patron of repentant drunkards. With other
saints it is easy to see why some incident of their life or death was taken up by the people as indications that they should be invoked in special cases. Good St. Anne is the patron saint for mothers-in-law and domestic troubles; St. Florian (May 4th), who was a Roman soldier
condemned to death as a Christian and drowned in the River Enns in Austria, is universally invoked to extinguish fires, obviously with the help of the water hallowed by his death; St. Bartholomew (August 24th), who was skinned alive, was made patron for all tanners and butchers. It is easy to see why the Holy Innocents (December 28th) are the patrons of choir boys and foundlings but rather hard to fathom why St. Margaret (July 20th) cures kidney diseases.
One of our children made a list once, "in case we need it," of saints to be invoked for special illnesses. Here it is:
Against fever--St. Hugh (April 29th)
Against epilepsy--St. John Chrysostom (January 27th)
Against burns and poisons--St. John the Evangelist (December 27th)
Against inflammations--St. Benedict (March 21st)
Against cough and whooping cough--St. Blaise (February 3rd) Against
consumption--St. Pantaleon (July 27th)
Against cold--St. Sebaldus (August 19th)
Patron of all the sick and dying--St. John of God (March 8th)
One of our boys got interested in patron saints for special professions.
Here is his little list:
St. Jerome--patron of students (September 30th)
St. Isidore--patron of laborers (May 10th)
St. Ives--patron of lawyers, jurists, advocates, notaries, and orphans
The "Four Crowned Martyrs"--patrons of masons and sculptors (November
St. Francis de Sales--patron of writers (January 29th)
St. Gomer--patron of the unhappily married (October 11th)
St. Gregory the Great--patron of singers (March 12th)
St. Cecilia--patroness of musicians (November 22nd)
St. John the Baptist--patron of tailors (June 24th)
St. Paul--patron of rope-makers (June 30th)
If there are girls and boys in a family and one of the boys has made a list of various saints for different professions, the girls simply have to make a list of patron saints, too. Ours found patron saint for animals:
Bees--St. Ambrose (December 7th)
Pigs--St. Anthony the hermit (January 17th)
Dogs--St. Rochus (August 16th)
Horses--St. Leonard (November 6th)
Asses--St. Anthony of Padua (June 13th)
Birds--St. Francis of Assisi (October 4th)
Fish--St. Anthony (June 13th)
And once in a while somebody would come running with a special discovery.
"Mother, look! We have enough girls in our family. I found a patron saint to obtain male children: St. Felicitas (July 10th)!"
"Mother, do you think Aunt Susan knows there is a saint of old maids--St. Catherine of Alexandria (November 25th) ?"
They also found that St. Gaston is the patron of children who learned to walk very late, and they discovered a few very valuable saints for weather. If you want rain, pray to St. Odo; if you want sunshine, pray to St. Claire. But the head of the heavenly weather department is of course
And so it goes. If the children in a family become sufficiently interested in their big brothers and sisters, the saints, to start making such lists and finding out about the respective feast days, it is just as
if one of their grown-up sisters were getting married and the new in-laws taken into the family. Their birthdays and feast days are noted down, the enlargement of the family circle is celebrated, and this, each time, is a happy occasion.
While close relations are kept up with a great many of the saints, some of them are singled out by the Church to be celebrated in a special way. There is, for instance, St. John the Baptist, whose feast is celebrated on the twenty-fourth of June. We learn that as far back as the eighth century bonfires were being lit in honor of the precursor of Christ--the "Johannesfeuer"--as a special solemnity. In the old world, the young people of the villages and towns take kindling wood up the mountains or
outside of town to some beautiful spot on a river bank. Before it is lit a few words point out the significance of this fire at the height of the year, at the beginning of summer when the nights are shortest; and the symbolism of fire and light in relation to that radiant figure, the Baptist. "He was a burning and a shining light: and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light" (John 5:35). When the flames are leaping up, everybody present joins in singing one of the old songs of the occasion. When the fire is burning low, everyone leaps over it--boys and girls holding hands and leaping by twos. Then they settle down around the fire for the fire-watch until the last spark has died out.
Soon afterwards, on June 29th, we celebrate the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. The badge of St. Peter is the cock, in memory of the "thrice-crowing" of that animal. As St. Peter is the "Great Fisherman," his feast day is celebrated in many seacoast towns with great festivity. Boats are decorated with garlands and ribbons. There are races, and the chief dish is fish, of course.
In our extensive traveling throughout many countries over three continents we have come across many a saint who is very famous locally but of whom we otherwise might never have heard. One day in the year is set aside to remember them all--the ones whose names are mentioned in the calendar and the multitudes who stand around the throne of God. This is All Saints' Day, on November 1st. In the Epistle, St. John tells us about the vision he had of the "great multitude which no man could number, of
all nations, and tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands," singing praise to God.
The teaching of Our Lord in the Gospels tells us what makes a saint a saint "Blessed are the meek...Blessed are they that mourn...Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice...Blessed are the merciful...Blessed are the clean of heart...Blessed are the peacemakers...Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake...." Nothing is so encouraging as to consider, on All Saints' Day,
those millions and millions around the throne of God who followed this teaching. Like St. Augustine before her, our Martina, when she was still quite little, said once on All Saints' Day, "As I think of it, Mother, if all those people could do it, why not we!"