Saints

Following in the Footsteps of Francis

The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Italy, maurizio / Shutterstock.com
The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Italy, maurizio / Shutterstock.com

Ancient stones, steep stairs, and sparkling fresh air greeted me upon arrival in Assisi, Italy, a month ago. Lush olive groves, leaves iridescent in the sun, offset the city stones. “What sort of place is this, that shaped St. Francis 800 years ago?” I asked myself. Eager to deepen my understanding of the saint, I had returned to Assisi to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis.

Profligate playboy, drama king, dejected knight, young Francis lived life large. He grew up in turbulent times, with civic unrest in Assisi and war with nearby Perugia surrounding him. Returning from a year as a prisoner of war in Perugia, sick and weak, Francis drifted. When he sold his cloth merchant father’s wares to repair a church, his father chained him in punishment. Francis stripped in public, denouncing his father. Unlikely material for a saint.

Yet God shaped Francis over time, and Francis yielded. A simple saint, Francis wanted one thing. Nothing but God, he proclaimed, shedding all else. He chose a life of simplicity, serving the poor, and calling the church to reform.

Comics & Faith with Gene Luen Yang

In the September-October 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, senior associate editor Julie Polter interviewed award-winning comic book author and artist Gene Luen Yang about his new two-volume graphic novel, Boxers & Saints.

Set during China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Yang’s comics illustrate the complexities of faith and fanaticism through the stories of two young people caught in the violent uprising against Westerners—foreign officials, merchants, and missionaries—as well as Chinese Christian converts. Boxers tells the story of Bao, a boy who becomes a Boxer leader (among the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) after witnessing ongoing abuse by Westerners; Saints follows Four-Girl, an unwanted daughter who converts to Catholicism, takes the name Vibiana, and must flee the Boxers.

Yang, a Chinese American residing in Oakland, Calif., dedicates Saints to the San Jose Chinese Catholic community. Boxers & Saints releases in September from First Second Books.

Unpublished excerpts of Sojournersinterview with Yang can be found below, along with illustrations from Boxers & Saints.

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Sojourners: The characters in Boxers & Saints are driven by varied combinations of ideology (patriotism, cultural imperialism) and mysticism/faith. The flaws and virtues of different beliefs sometimes seem to mirror each other.

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'The Hungry Soul in Pursuit of the Full Soul'

‘The Hungry Soul in Pursuit of the Full Soul’
On Proverbs 8

My saints won’t be named by a church.
Their sainthood won’t stand as statues. Listen.
Voices
calm as cooking directions
play continually—

If any thing’s resurrectible, it’s memory:
those eyes,
song-haloed, so full of lightness
nothing could stop their flight;
not a Thomas who peers into pupils’ darkness,

not a ravenous soul left grounded.
We are born, yin-yanged, of lightning
with saints and putti the lightest of all.
But love-rumpled faces, quick limbs, and pierced hearts
are unstable, done only in clay.

If Wisdom, God’s darling, still lifts voice to play
on this earth, and if (how could it be?)
she delights in mankind, may hunger hollow
this body to nothing but ear—which, night or day,
hears continually—

Muriel Nelson, author of Part Song and Most Wanted, lives near Seattle.

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The Hometown Blues

"If you tell a lie, it will be all over the country in a day or two. But if you tell the truth, it will take ten years to get there." ~ Eddie "Son" House

And the truth is what Jesus offered the people of his hometown in this tale from Mark's Gospel. Jesus offered his prophetic witness of truth-telling. He held up a mirror and showed them who they were. He held up a mirror and said to them, "The Kingdom of God is with you."

They were enraged that one of their own would do such a thing.
He was utterly astonished that the people who had raised him were incapable of facing their own truth.

He also knew that if they could not face the realities of their own complicated lives they would not be able to embrace the healing and forgiveness that God offered.

Jesus had the blues. He had the hometown blues.

So, rejected, he fled his hometown.

Then he sent his apostles out into the world proclaiming peace, healing the sick and the lame, and prepared to face the same rejection. People don't like to be reminded of the complications of real life. None of us like the feeling of being judged when the mirror is held up before us.

QUIRK: It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's ... Super Saints?

The Madonna as Catwoman by Igor Scalisi Palminteri via Facebook.
The Madonna as Catwoman by Igor Scalisi Palminteri via Facebook.

Italian artist Igor Scalisi Palminteri is fascinated by religion — and superheroes, apparently. In a series of statuary called "Agiographie," Palminteri reimangines traditional images of Jesus, the Holy Family, and the saints as, variously, Superman, Captain America, Batman and Robin, and The Incredibles.

See more of Palminteri's superhero-saints inside the blog ...

Alphege, Alms, and Easter Anthems

Earth Day illustration, kabby/Shutterstock.com
Earth Day illustration, kabby/Shutterstock.com

In City Journal, Pascal Bruckner has written an interesting essay critiquing "secular elites" and their (our?) predilection for an apocalyptic vision without redemption. He calls it the apocalyptic daze, a love for the cataclysmic and states that it's shaping our politics. Interesting stuff to read as Earth Day approaches. He writes: 

My point is not to minimize the dangers that we face. Rather, it is to understand why apocalyptic fear has gripped so many of our leaders, scientists, and intellectuals, who insist on reasoning and arguing as though they were following the scripts of mediocre Hollywood disaster movies.

His is not a critique of the science of environmentalism but one of the rhetoric of the politics surrounding it.

Saints Compete for Top Ranking in 'Lent Madness'

Assorted Christian saints images, Wiki Commons; illustration by Cathleen Falsani
Assorted Christian saints images via Wiki Commons; illustration by Cathleen Falsani

As college basketball fans prepare for March Madness, a holier tournament already has Christians rooting and cheering this Lenten season.

For three years running, "Lent Madness" has taken to the Internet as a competition between Episcopal saints in a single-elimination bracket tournament resembling the one followed by March Madness fans.

This Lenten devotional, first created by the Rev. Tim Schenck on his blog, "Clergy Family Confidential," allows readers to learn about and vote for the saints presented daily on the website, with the winning saints moving closer to the coveted prize of the Golden Halo.

"I was looking for a fun way to embrace the Lenten season," said Schenck, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Hingham, Mass.

"Lent doesn't have to be all doom and gloom," said Schenck. His goal, he says, is to help people "connect with the risen Christ during this season" and to "have a bit of fun in the process."

On Becoming a Christian

He’s not an official Catholic saint yet, but in October the Church beatified Nazi resister Franz Jagerstatter at the cathedral in Linz, Austria—thus taking the second of three steps toward official canonization or sainthood.

As writer and activist Jeanie Wylie said, “We smile to think of the saints of God in all times who have listened in the night and done whatever they could to show us the love of God.” In this liturgical season where we are steeped in images of Christ putting on our humanness and as we prepare for the slow cavalcade of Lent, I’m drawn to Jager­statter’s story, to what happened when he “listened in the night.”

Franz Jagerstatter, born in 1907, lived in St. Radegund, Austria, only a few miles from Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau. Jagerstatter’s parents were too poor for a marriage ceremony. At age 27 Franz considered entering a Catholic monastery as a lay brother, but was advised against it by his parish priest who thought Franz should take over the family farm and care for his mother.

In 1936, Franz married Franziska Schwaninger and, by all accounts, his life changed dramatically for the better. In reflecting on their marriage, Franziska recalled, “We helped one another go forward in faith.” Franz himself said, “I could never have imagined that being married could be so wonderful.”

In 1938, Nazi Germany “unified” Austria. The German-controlled Austrian Nazi Party held a rigged plebiscite to approve the unification. It passed with 99.73 percent support. The public humiliation and arrest of Jews began almost immediately. Hitler commented on the annexation of Austria, “Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators.”

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Sojourners Magazine February 2008
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Huggable Warrior of the Cross

Soft Saints, Inc., purveyor of positive role models for today’s youth in the form of plush dolls, makes it possible to cuddle with a 15th-century purveyor of divine wisdom–the “Maid of Orleans,” Joan of Arc. “Made of soft, pliable leather-like fabric,” states the promotional material, “her suit of armor keeps with our concept of soft and huggable.”

It’s hard to tell that it’s not the actual warrior-saint, as this doll appears to be highly flammable. Joan has a molded rubber head with hand-painted features and “wonderfully relevant accessories.” Unfortunately, she doesn’t come with a preinstalled digitized Voice of God summoning you to rescue France. The dolls are crafted by really nice women in California as an “American-made labor of love.”

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Sojourners Magazine January 2007
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Walking the Women's Road

Robert Ellsberg is an editor’s editor. In the era of market-driven, rather than mission-driven, publishing, he has stayed the course in publishing some of the most important authors and books of our time. Through his 18 years at Maryknoll’s Orbis Books, Ellsberg and crew have printed the writings of Dorothy Day, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Thomas Merton, Megan McKenna, Henri Nouwen, Kelly Brown Douglas, Ched Myers, James Cone, Leonardo Boff, Joan Chittister, Daniel Berrigan, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Penny Lernoux, and countless others whose names aren’t well-known but whose work advances the reign of God.

Ellsberg’s own work includes All Saints (Crossroad), The Saints’ Guide to Happiness (North Point Press), and most recently, Blessed Among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.

Blessed Among All Women builds on All Saints, Ellsberg writes in his introduction. “Soon after that book’s publication I was pleased to receive an invitation from a small contemplative community of Maryknoll Sisters. While they appreciated my nontraditional approach to saints, they noted with some passion that I had maintained the traditional imbalance of women and men (about one out of four).” Soon Ellsberg was bombarded with hundreds of suggestions of women spiritual leaders who deserved to be considered in the company of saints.

Ellsberg took up the challenge to examine why, among the wide array of official saints, women were vastly underrepresented. He discovered two primary reasons. First, he writes, “Many holy women in history tended to spend their lives in the relative seclusion of the cloister.” Second, “the process of canonization, like the general exercise of authority in the church, has been entirely controlled by men.”

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Sojourners Magazine February 2006
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