Like a book’s acknowledgments page, telling the stories of the saints reminds us that we didn’t get here on our own. Since the beginning of the church, there have been empires to be resisted, riches to be given away, and dishes to be washed. Not so different than today. So follow along as we chronicle the lives of some of the saints who inspire us. We hope you’re inspired, too.
When I talk to the Christians whom I want to emulate, I find that they talk about other people — a mentor or a pastor or a spouse or a parent or a writer or a friend or someone else who changed them. If their life had an acknowledgments page, it’d be pretty long. And if you could go talk to those people, they’d probably talk about someone else. And so would those people, and those people, and those people. And eventually, I guess you’d get all the way back to John or Martha or Mary or Peter. And they’d tell you all about this guy named Yeshua, whom they followed around for a few years in Capernaum and Jericho and Jerusalem. Which makes sense, I guess. Christianity isn’t about me following Jesus, following Yeshua.
But it would not be lost on him, the silence — our silence — on the very principles Christianity was founded on: love of neighbor, care for the poor, welcoming all. Blaise had only to renounce these values to stop the horrors inflicted upon him. Just a word to save his own neck. But he refused. Even as he was tortured and executed. How tame our religion would seem to him now, how close to the trappings of the Empire whose politicians had hauled him off to jail.
As Christian witnesses, we should use the feast of Saint Valentine to care deeply for one another and especially for those who are persecuted by those in power. Flowers and candies and candles are nice — but this year, I’d much rather be smashing patriarchy, overturning the “refugee ban,” creating pathways to citizenship, and supporting high quality education for all children. And my valentine can join me in my ventures.
Earlier this year, Tripp Hudgins wrote a piece declaring that all his favorite theologians are dying. He listed David Bowie and Pete Seeger as two theologians whom he felt sang “real theology about a real God” during their lifetimes. Others would later add Prince and Phife Dog and Sharon Jones to their lists of songwriters who spoke lyrics of truth in a broken world and who are no longer with us. Leon Wieselthier described his friend Leonard Cohen as “the lyrical advocate of the finite and the flawed” in a beautiful eulogy in the New York Times just the other week. Could a musically gifted person of any faith be honored with better words than those?
While the other Jesuits ministered to slaves and freedmen, Peter couldn’t take his mind off of the port and the bodies, both living and dead, that he had seen. He was given leave to focus his life’s work on welcoming these ships, doing acts of mercy for the living, and doing what was left to be done for the dead.
A sign that hung in the volunteer room at Shanti Dan quoted Mother Teresa, reading, “I pray each one of you to be holy and so spread [God’s] love everywhere you go. Light [God’s] light of truth in every person’s life so that God can continue loving the world through you and me.”
This was not just a commission for those serving in Kolkata. Poverty, violence, hatred, sadness, hopelessness, crime, greed, darkness, jealousy exist in our homes across the world. And Mother Teresa was known for encouraging people to serve their neighbors in their hometowns or wherever they are called, striving to love each person as God loved us.
St. Clare and the women religious who formed my faith taught me that there are as many ways to be a faithful woman as there are women on the earth. They taught me that you can serve God while being strong, outspoken, and good at what you do. Even more significantly, they taught me the importance of sharing stories about the many and varied ways that women serve God and their fellow humans.
Martha was a disciple of Jesus, and she loved, supported, and hosted him for dinner, as friends do. Yet Martha, like all of us, sometimes became bogged down by the details of her hospitality, and as a result, lost sight of the presence of the God she was serving — the God who was literally right in front of her. In my own story I, too, failed to encounter God when God was right in front of me, present in my friends, distracted as I was by the details of my hospitality.