Throughout history the Catholic Church has proclaimed particular men and women as saints, professing this certain company of faithful departed as “models and intercessors” who “practiced heroic virtue” and “fidelity to God’s grace” in life. (CCC, 828) St. Luke, the author of one of the four Gospels as well as recognized artist of a nationally-beloved Marian icon, reminds us about the important places of historical narratives and iconic images in the Catholic faith.
As the Church celebrates his feast day on October 18, it seems appropriate to recall not only these areas where Luke made lasting contributions, but to recognize how such a saintly life and his works challenge us to answer our own baptismal call to sainthood.
Since the late first century, Luke has served the Church as a historian of the finest form. He consulted printed source materials and conducted eyewitness testimonials, weaving them all together into an orderly, readable narrative that still withstands the scrutiny of scholars. The twenty-four chapters collectively presented in the Gospel of Luke are salvation history, chronicling important details about the infancy, teachings, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ.
By also highlighting the daily lives of the earliest Christians, Luke helped document some of the demands of discipleship for all centuries. His entire Gospel account illustrates that Christ alone serves as the timeless model of living piety. It also allows one to discover that attaining peace and fullness in life requires repenting and detaching ourselves from earthly possessions.
Church scholars, theologians, and popular traditions also credit Luke with painting Our Lady of Czestochowa. The “Black Madonna” portrays the Blessed Virgin Mary as “showing the way” toward the Christ child. The icon has served the people of Poland for over six centuries both as a sign and symbol. The child Jesus holds the Gospels in his left hand as two fingers point upwards – signs of his divine and earthly existence – and three fingers downwards on his right hand – representing the Holy Trinity.
The icon stands alone among Marian images for the scars noticeable on her right cheek. Polish national histories trace the marks back to an arrow and, later, a sword thrust into the portrait by a soldier of an invading army. Today it is housed in the Chapel of the Birth of the Virgin Mary at the Jasna Gora Shrine, a popular pilgrimage destination in Poland visited yearly by thousands from around the world.
For this first week of the Year of Faith, allow the saintly life and works of Luke to help make you a joyful companion in faith and to lead a prayer life strengthened by Marian piety. Perhaps it starts by contemplating the face of Christ in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. The Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation, and Finding in the Temple all find literary expression in the Gospel of Luke (cf. Luke 1:5 - 2:52). Or maybe it begins by discovering the ruggedness and truths of faith in the face of Our Lady of Czestochowa, an iconic painted by Luke that has seen so much over the centuries.
Regardless, like St. Luke before you, seek sainthood in the ordinariness of your own life.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.