Michelle Martin

Communing with the saints

November 4, 2020

Human nature is deeply flawed.

We know this because we are marked with original sin, of course. But we can also see it when we look at people. Not just the people around us: the maniac who cut us off in traffic, nearly causing an accident, or the neighbor kid who took all the treats left outside for a socially distant, no-contact Halloween.

Nope. Just looks at the saints, the people the church holds up as examples of holiness. They’re a motley bunch, to be honest, featuring everyone from a warrior bent on breaking gender norms (St. Joan of Arc) to a good thief (St. Dismas).

We have St. Martha, one of my personal favorites, complaining to the Lord himself that she’s been left with all the work of providing hospitality, and St. Teresa of Avila, who grumbled to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

Sure, she was traveling to visit a convent in a driving rainstorm and had just slipped down an embankment and fallen into the mud, but was that any way to speak to the Almighty?


It was honest, to start, and if God knows everything, he surely knew St. Teresa was wet and cold and a wee bit peevish. If nothing else, her openness betrays the intimacy of her relationship with God. Sure, she was annoyed, but she knew God could take it.

St. Augustine was also probably being honest when he famously said, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

We all know he got there in the end, although when he said it, I suspect he may have been hoping for a deathbed conversion, allowing him to have his fun here on Earth and enjoy the pleasures of heaven in the hereafter — the ultimate in having your cake and eating it too.

That he got there at all seems to be due in large part to his mother, St. Monica, the patron saint of patience, who apparently needed every drop God gave her. I’ve heard that if you ask God for patience, he gives you opportunities to practice it. It seems like she had plenty.

Of course, St. Augustine’s conversion happened well before his death; he was 31 when he heard a child’s voice telling him to “Pick it up and read it,” which he eventually took as a suggestion to read Scripture, and he lived until the age of 75, becoming a priest, bishop, philosopher and theologian.

I’m not sure what it says that both Augustine and Teresa of Avila now are considered doctors of the church.

It’s just over a month from the feast of All Saints to the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which celebrates Mary, the only saint born without original sin. Maybe we can spend some time this month with the saints, learning not just why the church believes them to be holy, but how they developed their relationships with the Lord that helped them become so.


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