The saints have been a constant presence in my life as heroines or heroes, as guides and as friends. Some of the saints have been dear to me all of my life. Others have been special only for a time. But the Catholic sensibility of loving the saints has been constant. In the next few days, we celebrate three very special saints: Patrick, Joseph and Benedict. Coming during Lent, these celebrations give us encouragement on our journey of increased prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
St. Patrick, the founder of Christianity in Ireland (according to popular tradition), holds pride of place through my mother’s Irish heritage. My attachment to St. Patrick grew when she and I took many trips to Ireland in order to discover her Irish roots and family history. On one of those trips, I had the opportunity to visit, learn about and walk the holy site of Croagh Patrick.
Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, so even though our community has German roots, here in the monastery, we all wear our green on March 17th. While in campus ministry, I took a groups of college students to the eastern Navajo reservation in New Mexico for spring break mission trips. On March 17th during our first trip, we were surprised to see even the Navajo wearing and handing out shamrocks at a community celebration. One of our guides even wore a leprechaun hat.
For most of my life, I never thought much about St. Joseph. After all, scripture says almost nothing about him. However, we do know one thing about Joseph. In the Gospel for his feast on March 19, Matthew tells us that Joseph “was a righteous man” (1:19). I looked up “righteous” and found that the Hebrew word is tsadiyq meaning, “one who is straight and does not depart from th
e way of God.” The righteous are “…those who, in humility and faithfulness, trust in the Lord, despite persecution and oppression; those who seek to live uprightly and without pride of heart, depending on the Lord for protection and vindication. `Righteousness’ here is not ethical perfection, but the obedience and uprightness of the faithful.”
It was a movie, Nativity Story, that opened my heart to another way of looking at St. Joseph. Now he is one of my favorite saints. The movie shows what a difficult and dangerous journey Mary and Joseph had to take from Nazareth to Bethlehem. In one scene, worn out by all the effort to keep Mary safe, Joseph falls asleep on a riverbank. Mary washes his feet and speaks to the child in her womb saying, “My child, you have a good and decent man to raise you, a man who will give of himself before anyone else.” In other words, he was a righteous man.
When I was discerning my vocation to religious life, I knew very little about St. Benedict. I certainly did not know St. Benedict’s Rule, and I am embarrassed to admit that I was disappointed the first time I read it. It seemed ordinary and dull. Now, many years later, I love the ordinariness of the Rule. The Rule of St. Benedict is a practical guide to developing the virtues of humility, simplicity, balance and charity. After many years and countless opportunities to study the Rule, it is hard to give a brief summation of its value in my life. Books have been written about it, but here are a few words about each value listed above:
• humility, the humility of those who know they are loved by God, so they can accept themselves regardless of the passing acclaim or criticisms of others
• simplicity, in that we have everything we truly need but ideally, nothing more
• balance, often expressed in the words, “ora et labora,” or “pray and work.” St. Benedict never said this, but he did set up a balanced life of prayer and work and leisure in which every activity has its time and place.
• love, first, recognizing and acknowledging the overwhelming love that God has for each one of us, then the love that we return to God, and finally, the love we owe to one another
So, today we will eat soda bread and trifle, wear our green and honor St. Patrick by participating in a bit of Irish culture. Friday, we will have a big liturgical celebration and enjoy a delicious meal, including meat, to honor the humble and righteous Joseph. Finally, on Monday (transferred because March 21 falls on a Sunday) we will engage in the biggest celebration of the three as we honor the passing into the arms of a loving God, of the man who founded our Benedictine way of life.
By Sister Karen Ann Lortscher, OSB