My saints of the week | Inquirer Opinion
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My saints of the week

/ 05:02 AM March 23, 2024


It’s been my hobby, for the past 20 years or so, to read stories of saints. I found a fascinating used book, “The Lives of the Saints,” by the French abbé Omer Englebert in a shop: saints for each day of the year, each story only from one to 30 lines long, a total of 497 pages, for 2,000+ saints. I liked its $3 price and Father Omer’s advice to ignore the off-putting saints and imitate the pleasing ones only.

Basic references are “The Oxford Dictionary of Saints,” by David Hugh Farmer, and “Dictionary of Saints,” by John J. Delaney (not the Ateneo Jesuit). The most historical are Jacobus de Voragine’s “The Golden Legend,” the 13th-century best-seller that kept Ignatius de Loyola company while his leg wound was healing, and the 18th-century “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” (gifted me by Ambeth Ocampo). The most massive are “Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints” by Matthew and Margaret Bunson, and “A New Dictionary of Saints” by Michael Walsh. The most eclectic is “All Saints” by Robert Ellsberg, which has Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The newest is “The Modern Saints: Portraits and Reflections on the Saints,” by the artist Gracie Morbitzer, who puts Jesus in a plain white t-shirt and paints most saints as dark-skinned.


Many stories are cruel. The encyclopedia has over 20 pages of “martyrs of X,” where X can be Africa, America, China, England, France, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Wales, etc. Protestants are martyred by Catholics, and vice-versa. The various Christian churches share some saints and also have their own. Why so few Filipino saints? Muslims have their own saints (Rumi is one), as do Jews. And every religion has its own wonderworkers.


Many stories are charming: Brigid of Kildare hanging her laundry to dry on a sunbeam that shines for her at night; Kevin letting a bird lay eggs on his palm and keeping still until the eggs hatch and the baby birds fly away; Francis of Assisi lecturing to animals and birds.

Sharing the saints by text. In his last years—for at least a decade—the late Fr. Rudy V. Fernandez, SJ (1929-2017), would compose a short daily prayer or reflection, and SMS it to his friends. In time, these were put in a little book, “Text Book One” (2010); perhaps there is also a “Text Book Two.”

Having enjoyed the privilege of being on Father Rudy’s daily text list, I began to make a summary of my daily saint story and text it back to him, as well as to other friends. Below are some stories, pertinent to this week and next week, that I sent him. (Next week, Holy Saturday, is my column’s annual holiday.)

March 17, St. Patrick. Died in 461. Born in Britain, part of the Roman empire then. Son of a deacon and grandson of a bishop. Was abducted and enslaved by Irish raiders as a teenager. After six years, escaped to France; studied under St. Germanus of Auxerre. Returned to become Apostle of Ireland, setting up hundreds of bishops and thousands of priests. Enshrined at Downpatrick, near Belfast. God promised the Irish that Patrick would be their judge on the Last Day.

March 21, birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. J. S. Bach, a devout Lutheran, composed music as an act of devotion, for church use. He wrote “JJ” (Jesu Juva = Help Me Jesus) or “INJ” (In Nomine Jesu = In the Name of Jesus) at the top, and wrote “SDG” (Solo Deo Gloria = In God Alone the Glory) at the bottom, of his music manuscripts. Fathered 20 children (remarried after his first wife passed). Died in Leipzig at 65, virtually blind, after dictating his last chorale, “Before Thy Throne I Come.” (Source: “All Saints.” March 21 was Bach’s date of birth in 1685 by the Julian calendar, which became March 31 by the Gregorian calendar adopted in Protestant parts of Germany in 1700.)

April 1, James the Faithful, 1st century. He was the steward at the wedding feast in Cana who was surprised that the best wine was served last instead of first. There was an enormous surplus since Jesus had made 180 gallons of wine—not from the feast’s limited pure drinking water, but from the several amphorae of water available for washing the feet of guests (1 amphora = 26-1/7 gallons). James stored the surplus and served it to Jesus and the disciples when they passed by. For his long and faithful service, James was also allowed to take home the many baskets of leftover loaves and fish from the multiplication at Capernaum.


I know Father Rudy liked James the Faithful, since he texted me back, “That’s a nice story. I never heard it before.”


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TAGS: sainthood, Saints

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