Our yearly calendar tells us to remember the saints. They’re catechisms of faith.
The study of the saints –hagiography– has changed in recent times. Saints are more than people to ask for some favor or miracle-workers to marvel at. They’re in communion with us, advising us how to live in this world. “From their place in heaven, they guide us still.” (Preface of the Apostles)
Recent studies of saints look at the world they lived in and how they helped shape that world. That’s also our task– to live in this world and to prepare it for God’s Kingdom.
For example, you can’t understand Elizabeth Seton (January 4) outside of the world of the Enlightenment, or Mother Cabrini (November 13) outside of the world of immigrants. They reacted to the challenges of their time, and so should we.
Studies of saints today tend to be less panegyric. Saints aren’t perfect. Hagiography follows the recent trend in biography which tries to see people in the context of the political, social, intellectual and religious worlds they lived in. That includes their faults and failings as well as their virtues and accomplishments.
Saints and holy people are more interesting than celebrities–the media darlings today. For example, Dorothy Day’s autobiography “The Long Loneliness,” is a spiritual classic from a woman of faith at home with broken humanity. She made stark choices. “‘Diligo’, to love means also to choose”, she writes.
She was an uncompromising advocate for the poor. She also knew she needed people and a home:
“I had heard many say that they wanted to worship God in their own way and did not need a Church in which to praise him, nor a body of people with whom to associate themselves. But I did not agree to this. My very experience as a radical, my whole make-up, led me to want to associate with others, with the masses, in loving and praising God.” (p. 139)
Robert Ellsberg edited her diaries (“The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg, Milwaukee University Press, 2008) and chose the title from her entry for February 24, 1961. ‘Today I thought of a title for my book ‘The Duty of Delight’ as a sequel to “The Long Loneliness.” I was thinking how, as one gets older, we are tempted to sadness, knowing life as it is here on earth, the suffering, the Cross. And how we must overcome it daily, growing in love, and the joy which goes with loving.”
Holy people give us wisdom.
Besides the books, The Catholic Worker website www.catholicworker.org offers a wealth of information about a wonderful woman. Worth looking at, and following.