Wednesday, November 01, 2006

For All the Saints

On this solemnity where the church commemorates its heroes, sung and unsung, James Martin SJ takes to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times to praise "Saints That Weren't":
Last month, Pope Benedict XVI declared Mother Théodore Guérin, who lived and worked in rural Indiana in the mid-1800’s, a saint. She is therefore worthy of “public veneration” by Catholics worldwide. Mother Guérin founded the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods and started several schools and a college in the region.

You would think that this would have won her favor from the local bishop. You would be wrong.

At the time, the idea of an independent woman deciding where and when to open schools offended Célestine de la Hailandière, the Catholic bishop of Vincennes, Ind. In 1844, when Mother Guérin was away from her convent raising money, the bishop ordered her congregation to elect a new superior, in a bid to eject her from the very order of nuns that she had founded.

The independent-minded sisters simply re-elected Mother Guérin. Infuriated, Bishop Hailandière told the future saint that she was forbidden from setting foot in her own convent, since he, the bishop, considered himself its sole proprietor.

Three years later, Bishop Hailandière demanded that Mother Guérin resign. When she refused, the bishop told her congregation that she was no longer superior, that she was ordered to leave Indiana, and that she was forbidden from communicating with her sisters. Her sisters replied that they were not willing to obey a dictator. The situation worsened until, just a few weeks later, Bishop Hailandière was suddenly replaced by the Vatican. From then on, the Sisters of Providence flourished. Today its 465 members work in 10 states, the District of Columbia, China and Taiwan....

Somewhat more recently, in 1871, Mother Mary MacKillop was excommunicated — the church’s severest punishment — four years after founding a religious order for women in Australia. One biographer wrote that the bishops of the day were intimidated by Mary’s “independent spirit and steely character.” In 1995, Mary MacKillop was beatified, the final step before canonization, by Pope John Paul II.
The church’s long history of “faithful dissent” offers both hope and perspective to Catholics in our time. It echoes the call of the Second Vatican Council, which, in 1964, declared that expressing opinions “on matters concerning the good of the church” is sometimes an obligation for the faithful.
Does that include the faithful of the East Coast? If it does, you'd never know it.
But, as some saints knew firsthand, a sincere intention is no guarantee that everybody in the church will listen — even today. Members of Voice of the Faithful, the lay organization founded in response to the sexual abuse scandals, are sometimes barred from meeting in Catholic parishes. Local chapters often gather in nearby Protestant church halls. Who knows which future saints are lurking there?
All Saints’ Day is a good time to remember that while most saints led lives of quiet service, some led the life of the noisy prophet, speaking the truth to power — even when that power was within the church.
A fellow Philly boy/public school product/Penn alum, Martin is author of My Life with the Saints, now on its sixth printing.

If you don't already have it, it might just be a nice All Saints' Day purchase.

SVILUPPO: Not to be outdone, Fr Jim's got another meditation up at BustedHalo. Good for last-minute homilies....
You might know whom to ask for your missing iPod, but did you know that Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized, and who ministered to poor Italian immigrants in New York City in the early 20th century, is the official patron saint of finding parking spaces? Well, official in my book anyway.

Just last weekend, my brother-in-law experienced the amazing benefits of her intercession while he was circling a crowded parking lot in front of a restaurant in suburban New Jersey. Vainly searching for a spot, he dropped me off curbside with my sister and two kids. Then, alone in his S.U.V., he turned to Mother Cabrini in his hour of need, using an easy prayer that I had shared with him a few years ago.

"Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, please find a spot for my little machiney."

A few minutes later, he burst into the restaurant and announced, "Mother Cabrini's amazing! I'm converted!" On his second pass around the parking lot, Mother Cabrini had found him a spot in directly in front of the restaurant. In suburban New Jersey, that counts as a miracle.

A Jesuit friend, however, relies on another saint for parking spaces: St. Therese of Lisieux, often called the "Little Flower," for her spirituality of doing little things for God with love. My friend taught me her prayer last summer: "Little Flower, Little Flower, send me some of your parking power." many of you know, BH is also home to a certain fortnightly column.