We celebrate a veritable panoply of saints today: In Canada, we have the memorial of Saint Marguerite D’Youville (+1771), who married young to a dissolute man, Francois D’Youville, a bootlegger who sold liquor to the Natives, and would disappear for long periods. He did not live long, but they did have six children together, before his death.
By the time she was 30, Marguerite had lost her husband, her father, and four of her children, who died in infancy. She renewed her faith, worked to pay off the debts of her husband, then founded an Order, Les Souers Grises, the ‘Grey Sisters’, who worked with the poor in the early days of Canada.
Another Margaret, Alacoque (+1690) is also today, a contemplative nun in France, who from childhood devoted herself to God, with some rather intense asceticism, and entered the Order of the Visitation in 1671. Soon afterward, beginning in December 1673, and continuing for a year and a half, the young Sister received remarkable visions and revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, emphasizing the humanity of the Son of God, a devotion that soon spread throughout the world.
A third consecrated woman is also today, Saint Hedwig of Silesa (+1243), who, like D’Youville, married young, at what we would consider the too-tender age of twelve, but things were different back then (not least, lives were considerably shorter); her match a relatively happy one, to Henry the Bearded, son and heir to the Duke of Silesia, who helped his wife in her apostolic way of life, hosting banquets for the poor, and giving away much in alms, supporting monasteries and schools. Upon Henry’s death in 1238, Hedwig, who had always lived an ascetical life, joined the Cistercian monastery at Trzebnica that she had persuaded her husband to found 1202, where she died after five years of religious life, in 1243. Providentially, Saint Hedwig is the patroness of the parish where I live, right beside the college at which I teach, so I have a special devotion to this Polish saint.
Not least, we have Gerard Majella (+1726), a Redemptorist lay brother. After a difficult apprenticeship as a tailor, he worked for some time before joining in 1749 the Order dedicated to Christ the Redeemer, founded by Saint Alphonsus Ligouri in 1732. Gerard was known during his life for his instant obedience, constant cheerfulness and doing all the work that needed doing, from sacristan, to gardener, to cook and cleaner, without complaint. On his door, he had the phrase “Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills”. People say he could read souls, bilocate, cure the sick, even, purportedly, raising the dead. When the rather handsome lay-brother was accused, falsely of course, of a illicit liason by and with a young woman, Gerard remained silent, even when confronted by Saint Alphonsus himself who, when discovering the truth after the girl recanted, was astounded, and remonstrated with Gerard for not defending himself. But Gerard trusted in God to vindicate him. As with any number of other very holy young people, Gerard went to his reward early after a bout with tuberculosis, at the age of 29.
He is the patron saint of expectant mothers, due to a story that he once dropped his handkerchief in front of a house; a girl noticed, and wanted to give it back, but he replied, ‘Keep it…You might need it some day’. Years later, when the girl, now a married woman, was in deadly peril giving birth to her child, she remembered the nearly-forgotten bit of cloth, placed it on herself, and all went miraculously and swimmingly well, if I may put it that way. Saint Gerard has performed any number of other miracles since, from his well-deserved place in heaven. As the good saint would say: Consider the shortness of time, the length of eternity and reflect how everything here below comes to an end and passes by. Of what use is it to lean upon that which cannot give support.
I could not put it better.
As a final note, we have the new saints canonized last Sunday, during the Synod on Youth in Rome, the most famous amongst them being Pope Paul VI (+1978) and Archbishop Oscar Romero (+1980) both controversial, yet timely, for the saints come in all shapes and sizes, so to speak, and what matters most is not what one does, or does not do, but what and who one is.