Saints are not born; they are made, made from the crucible of their unique personal history. Their stories are the raw material inscribed in a book of their lives. This week the Church celebrates an array of saints, the Church’s super-heroes. Each of their stories differs from the other as night, the day.  But, Phyllis McGinley believes that they all share one thing in common:  “Saints were geniuses who brought to their works of virtue all the splendor, eccentricity, effort, and dedication that lesser talents bring to music or poetry or painting” (Saint-Watching, 17).  Only a thumbnail sketch of each saint appears below.  Perhaps readers will probe more deeply into their lives and derive benefit from them.

October 6th Bruno and the Carthusian Order

A few days ago, the Church celebrated the feast of St. Bruno and the Carthusian Order which he founded in the eleventh century.  The most ascetic of the Church’s religious institutes, its some 800 worldwide monks and nuns choose to remove themselves from the world which you and I traffic.  Theirs is a life of almost total silence, prayer, and fasting. Their silence is filled with joy, rooted in prayer.  Their prayer is filled with praise and supplication, and their fasting, an antidote to excess.  Each night, they rise at 11:30.  The new day’s activities begin at midnight with the chanting of the Night Office for two to three hours; this is Matins and Lauds. The Night Office is the high point of the day. The Church at prayer, symbolized by the Carthusians, is prior before all else, for prayer is the power that sends us forth to serve others. The origin of Chartreuse, their famous liqueur, is captured in the spiritual thriller entitled, Chartreuse, by Joseph Roccasalvo.  In 2006, a profile of the Carthusian life at La Grande Chartreuse in France was produced as a DVD entitled, “Into Great Silence.” It has won numerous awards including the special jury prize in 2006 for the World Cinema Special Documentary.

October 15th Teresa of Avila ( d 1582)

This worldly Carmelite nun with a lively, affectionate temperament was excessively attracted to worldly pursuits, chivalrous adventure, and to romantic literature.  Yet, she was chosen to reform the lax convent. Such is the divine irony! The Mansions of the Interior Castle is Teresa’s famous treatise on prayer in which she describes the soul living in the center of a castle of many rooms and where the Blessed Trinity dwells. Each room represents the soul’s progress in prayer.

Though Teresa experienced the heights of prayer, her practical side showed a keen sense of humor.  In adversity, she was not shy in giving God a piece of her mind: ‘Well, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few.’ Some aphorisms or a more serious nature are: “Prayer doesn’t consist of thinking a great deal but of loving a great deal” (Mansions, IV.i.7), “Never, for any reason whatever, neglect to pray” (Counsels, 184, 188).  

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

The humorous poem below further ingratiates us to a thoroughly attractive saint:

At Avila

Through all the agitation at the Convent of Incarnation
Where the spirit of the world was raising riot,
Knelt Teresa in her cell, contemplating rather well,
For she found herself beyond the Prayer of Quiet.

She loved her sister, Earth, with a gay Castilian mirth,
Which made her gifted nature sane and sound,
Yet Teresa de Ahumada was a devotée of nada,
And this raised her quite a distance from the ground.

One day, while she was kneeling, and began her prayer appealing,
“Lord, why must you treat me sternly as you do?”
This voice was heard append: “This is how I treat a friend,”
She replied, “Perhaps that’s why you have so few.”

When she met Juan de la Cruz, (five feet tall, to tell the truth),
First she turned away to stifle a loud laugh;
Then drew near him with another, while her quip she failed to smother,
“Now it’s time to meet my friar-and-a-half.”

So the smile upon her face for Teresa was a grace,
And to find a better kind’s a hopeless search;
Now there’s nothing left to vex or to minimize her sex,
For she’s ranked among the Doctors of the Church.  

(Joseph Roccasalvo)
October 16th Margaret Mary Alacoque (d 1690)

Margaret Mary Alacoque entered the Visitandine Order at Paray-le-Monial in France where she experienced the special grace to make the love of Christ known through devotion to his Sacred Heart. From this grace came devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the First Friday of every month.  She is known as “the beloved disciple of the Sacred  Heart."                                                                           
October 16th Hedwig (d 1243)

In the thirteenth century, Hedwig became the consort of Henry I of Silesia.  Upon her husband’s death, she entered a Cistercian monastery, founded by a daughter. Hedwig did not take religious vows however.  While living there, she used her influence to do good, especially among the poor.  She died having donated her fortune to the Church.

October 17th Ignatius of Antioch (d ca 115-117)

Ignatius is one of the five Apostolic Fathers and Antioch's impassioned martyr-bishop.

On his way from Antioch to be martyred in Rome, he wrote seven letters to the local churches he had visited.  In these letters, he tells the Christian community not to get in the way of his martyrdom. He consistently taught that the greatest human being spends his life in the service of others regardless of personal cost and person gain. 

October 18th Luke, the Evangelist

As a physician himself, Luke is the patron of physicians and surgeons.  His gospel has been called the most beautiful book ever written, for its warmth and joy, its kindness and gentle compassion that stress Jesus’ love for sinners.  This is the gospel of ‘going-out-to-dinner’ where Jesus acts decisively during the meal.  It is the gospel of prayer, the gospel that shows reverence for the Mother of God and deference to women, where the Holy Spirit permeates everything and is given prominence.  Salvation is for everyone—it’s the gospel of ‘everyone come in and everyone come home.’  Finally, Luke’s attractive personality shines through his writing, for he is a man of elegant sensibility.

October 19th North American Martyrs (d 1740s)                             

The bucolic hamlets of Auriesville, New York and Midland, Ontario celebrate the lives of the North American Martyrs, six French Jesuit priests and two assistants or donnés.  In the seventeenth century, they ministered to the Iroquois confederacy of five nation-tribes. With the growing number of Indian converts, came a wave of persecution in the 1840s against the missionaries.  At various times, between 1642-1649, they were brutally tortured, having been accused of being witch doctors.  Most of them fell under the tomahawk. 

Who Were These French Jesuit Missionaries?

The first group of missionaries included Father Isaac Jogues, and two donnés, René Goupil and John Lalande.  Due to deafness, Goupil could not be ordained a Jesuit but was trained as a doctor and surgeon.  After years of ministering to the Indians along the St. Lawrence River, Jogues and Goupil were captured.  Goupil was the first of the eight to be martyred—tomahawked.  For thirteen months, Jogues was brutally tortured and enslaved, his fingers mangled. His escape to France brought on a desire to return to his mission.  John de Lalande, the nineteen-year old donné, accompanied Jogues back to the Mohawk Mission in New York. With papal approval, Jogues celebrated Mass even with stubs as fingers.  When he was again tortured, this time he succumbed.  The date was October 18th, 1646.  Lalande himself was killed the next day. Auriesville is sacred ground.

The second group of the Eight were martyred within the confines of Midland at Ste. Marie, Martyrs’ Shrine. In 1635, Father Anthony Daniel founded the first Huron boys’ College in Quebec and labored among the Hurons for twelve years until, on July 4th, 1648, still wearing Mass vestments, he was attacked as he ended celebrating Mass.  His martyred body was thrown into the flames of the burning church. 

The thirty-three year old, Father Jean de Brébeuf was a gifted linguist and mastered the Huron language. Massive in body, gentle in manner, it is said that he had the heart of a giant.  Like Brébeuf, Father Gabriel Lalemant was a gifted scholar, professor and college administrator, but unlike Brébeuf, his body was frail.  Eventually both were captured, tied to stakes and underwent one of the worst martyrdoms ever recorded in history. Brébeuf suffered for three hours before dying on March 16th; Lalemant died the next morning.  The year was 1649. 

The Jesuit Relations describes in detail how grisly their tortures were: ‘The Indians dismembered their hearts and limbs while they were still alive, and feasted on their flesh and blood’ (L. Poulot, “North American Martyrs,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 507). Brébeuf died on March 16th, 1649, and Lalemant, on the next day.  Father Charles Garnier was assigned to the Huron mission at Ste. Marie for thirteen years and then to the mission at St. Jean.  He was beloved by his congregants, but in 1649, he was bludgeoned to death about thirty miles from Ste. Marie.

Perhaps the saddest and most poignant story is reserved for twenty-eight year old Father Noël Chabanel.  Though he was a brilliant professor of rhetoric and humanist at home in southern France, he had absolutely no ear for the Huron language. Plagued by a sense of uselessness, he was convinced that his ministry had failed. Yet to the end, he persevered in his missionary activity. In 1930, Pius XI canonized the North American Martyrs.  The Canadian Catholic Church celebrates their feast day on September 26th.   

 “The Blood of the Martyrs … the Seed of the Church”

Martyrdom for the faith has always been part of the Christian psyche. When these missionaries were assigned to work in New France, martyrdom could not be ruled out. They expected to die for the sake of Christ, though they did not seek it out. It is a stark reality that remains a constant for missionaries today. The North American Martyrs were high-minded, cultured and refined men.  For them, the way of beauty was the bloody road of martyrdom.

October 20th St. Paul of the Cross (d 1775)

Born Paul Francis Danei, Paul of the Cross founded a religious institute of men and women, the Congregation of the Passion or Passionists.  They are dedicated to the preaching of the Passion of Christ.  An excerpt from a letter reveals the saint’s devotion:  “It is an excellent and holy practice to call to mind and meditate on our Lord’s Passion since it is by this path that we shall arrive at union with God.  In this, the holiest of all schools, true wisdom is learned, for it was there that all the saints became wise.”

Phyllis McGinley concludes: “Like musicians, painters, and poets, the saints were human beings but obsessed ones as Michelangelo was obsessed by line and form, as Shakespeare was bewitched by language, and Beethoven by sound.  And like other geniuses, they used mortal means to contrive masterpieces” (17).  The saints were totally overcome by God’s goodness and beauty.  It was this vision that prompted them to share it with others.