The Meek And The Grand

     Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Gentle Reader! A summary of the great Irish saint’s life and work:

     St. Patrick (387-493) was born in Kilpatrick, Scotland, to Roman-British parents. He was kidnapped by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen and sold as a slave to a Druid high priest. He worked as a shepherd and spent much time in prayer as he labored in the fields. He also acquired a perfect knowledge of the Celtic language and the Druid cult, which later enabled him to evangelize the Celtic people. After six years of slavery, an angel told him to flee his oppressive master and return to his native land. Upon returning to Britain, Patrick desired to devote himself to God’s service. He went to France and placed himself under the direction of St. Germain, who ordained him a priest and sent him to evangelize the pagans in Ireland. St. Patrick devoted the rest of his life to converting the island to Christianity. He was ordained a bishop and himself ordained many priests. He divided the country into dioceses, held local Church councils, founded monasteries, and urged the people to greater holiness. He suffered much opposition from the Druids and occult magicians, who, threatened by Christianity, conjured demonic power to defy Patrick. However, the prayer, faith, fearlessness, and episcopal authority of Patrick triumphed, and he was so successful in his endeavor that in the Middle Ages Ireland became known as the Land of Saints, and himself the “Apostle of Ireland.” Later, the missionaries sent from Ireland to Europe were largely responsible for the Christianizing of the continent. St. Patrick’s feast day is March 17th.

     The bit about the snakes is in all probability merely metaphorical.

     There are a number of “grand” saints in the hagiography: men and women whose accomplishments were huge and whose personal impact on Christian belief was evident even during their lifetimes. We admire those works and celebrate the lives of their doers. But we must not forget that sainthood – which, strictly speaking, means admission to eternal life in Heaven – does not require achievements that can be seen from orbit.

     The hagiography includes several thousand saints, the majority of whom are unknown even to most erudite Catholics. Many of those named there were not acknowledged for sanctity during their lives. Yet enough information about them survived to get the attention of the Church, which proclaimed them saints after due deliberation.

     The Church today refers possible saints to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, one of the nine prefectures of the Curia. That congregation would assign investigators to the task of amassing and assessing everything it’s possible to know about the candidate – a formidable task, as the depth and breadth of any man’s life is impossible to know in all its details. In earlier centuries, the investigation of a man for potential canonization was less formal, though equally serious.

     Information about the life and deeds of Saint Patrick was voluminous. The many priests and monks of the Emerald Isle made certain that his record would be preserved over the centuries. They venerated him long before the Vatican’s canonization process ever addressed him. That’s easy to understand, for a man whose achievements in service to the Church were so vast.

     But there have been many more “meek” saints: persons whose lives, as best we know them, were holy but whose accomplishments in this world were humble. Think of the many Christian martyrs of the First through the Third Centuries, when Christianity was outlawed in the Roman Empire and had to be practiced in secret. Few of their names have survived, yet all are accorded sainthood for their final deed: surrendering their lives rather than renouncing their faith.

     More recently, we have the Martin family of Alençon, France: Louis, Zelie, and their daughter Therese. All three have been canonized, yet they have no “grand” works to their credit: only exemplary lives that lived the love of God. Therese, the “Little Flower” of the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux, is often held up to young Catholics – especially Catholic girls – as exceptional models of faith and Christian devotion. Her writings on her “Little Way” are among the most popular of all spiritual fare among lay Catholics.

     Plainly, if both the meek and the grand are honored by the title of saint, and have received the same celestial reward, the magnitude of one’s accomplishments matters little if at all. Therese Martin didn’t found dozens of monasteries nor did she bring tens of thousands to the Faith during her lifetime, as Saint Patrick did, yet they partake of the same reward. The unnamed martyrs of the early Church didn’t travel thousands of miles to bring Jesus’s New Covenant to persons in India and the Far East, but their eternal bliss is no less than that of Francis Xavier.

     The common factor, which all saints share, is the deep, abiding love of God and devotion to His Will. Meek or grand, that is “the ticket:” for such a love, if sincere, will be lived. The works of a saint’s life, whether audacious or humble, will be suffused with that love. Those whose lives he touches will be unable to deny it.

     The daughter of a dear friend recently found her husband-to-be in a curious way. While in conversation via a social media site, each revealed to the other that sort of love of God. Though separated by many miles and difficult circumstances – he’s a career Navy man; she’s a dentist – they found their way to one another. They married despite considerable obstacles and the certainty of repeated lengthy separations.

     Another Martin family in the making, perhaps? Of course we cannot know beforehand. But we do know this: love has great power. It makes possible the conquest of obstacles that would otherwise prove insuperable. And all love, whether the lover’s deeds will prove meek or grand, reflects God’s love for us.

     May God bless and keep you all.