Uncomfortable Saints

Mary MacKillop:
N.N. / Public domain

All the saints should make us uncomfortable when we compare our all-too-human laziness with their heroic efforts in prayer, penance, and service of others. But some saints make us squirm because of the difficult trials they endured at the hands of other people. Three saints from the month of August fit in that category.

On August 8, the Australian saint, Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), is celebrated by the Church. Few founders of religious orders have been so painfully tried by the Church herself as was Mary. As the founder of a teaching order of nuns, she discovered that a priest who was serving at one of her schools was sexually abusing children. She promptly reported him to Church authorities, who sent him back to his native Ireland. But because the reason for the dismissal was kept secret by Church leaders, another priest misunderstood her actions and motivations, and he found a way to take revenge through her bishop. His vindictiveness ultimately led to Mary being excommunicated from the Church and deprived of the sacraments for a year. It was a deeply painful trial, and not the only one she suffered as a founder and mother superior.

On August 14, the Church remembers the 813 men of Otranto, Italy, who were ordered to convert to Islam or die when their town was invaded by Muslim Turks in the year 1480. When the men said no, all of them were brutally killed. Since this was the last, and failed, attempt by the Turks to conquer Italy, these brave and faithful men are often credited with saving all of Christian Europe. Most of the relics of these martyrs are still in the city’s cathedral.

One could feel deep sympathy with Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo (1848-1894) of Madagascar on her feast day August 21 for many reasons. For example, she was persecuted by her family for converting to Catholicism and later faced persecution by the government when Catholic churches, schools, and orders were closed for political reasons. But her most painful trial had to have been the marriage that her family arranged for her; her husband was a womanizer, a heavy drinker, and violent. Only after twenty-four years of marriage, during which time she prayed, prayed, and prayed some more for her husband, did he repent, ask for her forgiveness, and accept baptism.

All three of these saints suffered heartbreaking trials in their lives. Thanks be to God, they can help us when we do the same.

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