Author Thomas Craughwell's latest two books speak to society's growing fascination with saints and relics—but with an engaging wit that is rarely seen on the topic.
“If by 'pious' you mean sentimental and humorless, then yes, my work is not pious,” Craughwell told CNA. “I am devout, I am a faithful son of the Catholic Church, but I have a sense of humor.”
“Don’t get me wrong—I know where to draw the line,” he added. “But I do think it’s kind of funny that St. Sebastian is the patron saint of archers—not because he was an archer himself, but because he was the archers’ target.”
Author of several books including the 2006 hit “Saints Behaving Badly,” Craughwell released two more this year in time for All Saints Day on Nov. 1.
In an Oct. 20 interview, he talked about the exhaustive process in writing “Patron Saints: Saints for Every Member of Your Family, Every Profession, Every Ailment, Every Emergency, and Even Every Amusement” (Our Sunday Visitor, $14.95) and “Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics” (Image, $16.00).
“Patron Saints was supposed to be this simple project that I could knock out pretty quickly,” he said. “Instead it turned into a magnum opus.”
“Honestly, I do not know how many entries are in the book, but it runs to the hundreds.”
Craughwell explained that although most patron saint books list one saint for each cause, most causes, ailments, and countries have more than one patron saint, “so my editor and I decided to include as many as I could track down.”
As a result, “in my book you’ll find six patron saints for children, four for nuns, six for soldiers, 11 for Poland, and so on.”
Touching on his second major work of 2011, the encyclopedia of relics, Craughwell called it “a book I’ve wanted to write for years.”
The encyclopedia includes around 350 entries for everything from the bones of St. Peter to the True Cross, and from the Holy Grail “to the multiple locations that claim to possess the head of St. John the Baptist.”
“In each entry I identify the location or locations of the relic” and “include capsule biographies in the case of saints, and historical information in the case of objects such as the Ark of the Covenant,” he said.
On his passion for writing about the saints, Craughwell explained that he largely finds them misunderstood by modern society.
“Most people think 'saint' is a synonym for 'perfect,'” he said. “But the saints were not perfect, and some of them were a lot less perfect than others.”
St. Olga of Kiev, for example, “was a mass murderer,” Craughwell noted. “St. Patrick in his teen years was an atheist. St. Margaret of Cortona lived in sin with a man for nine years. St. Camillus de Lellis was a card sharp and a con man.”
But it was when these individuals repented of their former lives that they took the first steps toward becoming holy, he said.
“It wasn’t easy. Repentance never is. Camillus slipped back into his old life more than once. Margaret missed the comfortable life of being a rich man’s mistress.”
“But by prayer and penance, the Mass and the sacraments, and God’s grace, they overcame their temptations and became saints,” he added. “If these guys could become saints, then there’s hope for all of us.”
Aside from his love for the Blessed Mother, Craughwell said he has had a devotion for St. Thomas More since he was a little boy.
“I like him because he teaches us how to live in the world. He had a wife and children; he had a successful career; he became well-to-do and politically powerful,” he said. “He was an internationally acclaimed author and he was the confidant of his king.”
“Yet he never lost sight of what is most important in life—love for and fidelity to Almighty God. That intimate relationship with God grounded More all his life, and gave him the courage to die, as he said on the scaffold, 'the king’s good servant, but God’s first.'”
Craughwell noted the importance of devotions to those who've gone before us, reminding that every week at Mass in the Apostles Creed, Catholics recite their belief in the communion of saints.
“The communion of saints is an eternal spiritual relationship that even death cannot destroy,” he underscored. We “beg the saints in heaven to pray for us, so that ultimately when we pass from this life we may pass through purgatory to the unending joy of heaven.”
“That is what God desires for every human being, and he has given us countless saints to show us the way that leads to Him.”