There are many lessons that we can learn from the lives of the saints of the month of September. Here are seven of those lessons.
Lesson #1: You don’t need so much “stuff” in your life
The famous Mother Teresa (feast day Sep. 5), known to the Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, founded the Missionaries of Charity to care for the poorest of the poor. But Teresa and every sister in her order lived lives of poverty too, and each one possesses only two habits: one blue-and-white sari to wear that day and one to wash for the next day.
What does that teach us? We need God in our lives, much more than all the things we think we need.
Lesson #2: Don’t let others’ opinions rule your life
The Jesuit missionary priest Saint Peter Claver (feast day Sep. 9) had become a well-known but controversial figure in Colombia because of the decades he spent caring for Africans who arrived in South America as slaves. He faced endless opposition for daring to treat African slaves as real human beings. During an epidemic, he cared for the sick of the city and caught the disease himself. In the aftermath of the epidemic, everyone forgot about him—until they found out he was dying. The whole city showed up to be blessed by the dying man and then came to his funeral.
Although people may forget about you, remember that God never forgets about you.
Lesson #3: There are hidden joys in suffering
Saint Catherine Fieschi (feast day Sep. 15) found herself married to a cruel and unfaithful man in late seventeenth century Genoa, Italy. After moping about her situation for years, she was given a great grace: one day God overwhelmed her with the knowledge of all that He had done for her, and she was brought to her knees in gratitude. She began to devote her time to prayer rather than complaining, and her husband eventually repented. The couple lived devoutly together for the rest of their lives.
Our sufferings—though seemingly interminable—really do bear unexpected fruit in God’s time.
Lesson #4: “Retreat” is sometimes the best option
Saint Cyprian (feast day Sep. 16) was the bishop of Carthage (modern Tunisia) in the third century. When he heard that the Roman authorities were coming to persecute Christians, he escaped from the city and went into hiding. Some Christians complained afterwards, blaming him for abandoning his flock, who were largely martyred during this bitter persecution. Cyprian vigorously responded by asking a valid question: who would lead the church in Carthage if the head of the church had been killed? Cyprian later returned to the city during a time of peace. Proving that he was no coward, when Roman soldiers showed up on his doorstep under a later persecution, he professed his faith and was executed immediately.
Clearly, there are times when retreating from the battle is the most Christ-like option.
Lesson #5: What you think are inspirations from God may not always be inspirations from God
The twelfth century Benedictine abbess Saint Hildegard of Bingen (feast day Sep. 17) was brilliant, devout, and a strong leader. She also received mystical visions from the time she was a girl. Perhaps she was one of those saints who assume everyone receives such gifts because she didn’t tell anyone about them until the messages they contained began to alarm her. She immediately submitted them to the authorities, and the pope himself later approved them.
Remember that if you want to be holy, the inspirations, visions, or even simple insights you receive need to be judged by the Church (sometimes simply comparing them to something like the Catechism), rather than your own subjective opinion.
Lesson #6: You don’t have to be a straight A student for God to use you
If sanctity required a high IQ, Saint Joseph of Cupertino (feast day Sep. 18) would never have become a saint. He was such a poor student that he was only ordained a priest through a seeming miracle. Yet he was a deeply humble man, and humility is far more important to God than IQ points. This is proved by the fact that Joseph’s adult life was one long string of inexplicable miraculous events: levitation, healings, ecstasies, and feats of strength. His fellow Franciscan friars, far from showing Joseph off to get attention, basically forced him to live in solitude to avoid crowds of gawkers.
God showers gifts on people who love Him, not those who think they are smarter than others.
Lesson #7: God is patient with difficult people
Many, many saints of the Church are noted for their gentleness. Not so Saint Jerome of Stridon (feast day Sep. 30), the fourth century Doctor of the Church who became famous for using his wit and wisdom in devastating his opponents. Granted, Jerome’s opponents were generally those that he thought were speaking falsely about God or His Church, but if the Church wanted to appoint a patron saint of overly sensitive people with biting tongues, there is no candidate better than Saint Jerome.
The saints of September remind us that sanctity is often not what we think it is. Sanctity requires that we renounce our attachments to possessions. Sanctity teaches us to trust in God’s word more than the opinions of other people. If we are trying to be holy, we try to accept difficulties out of love. Holy people recognize the need to retreat from the fight sometimes and be ready for the next battle. Becoming holy means that we turn to the wisdom of the Church to evaluate our own ideas sometimes. Saints know that we are all fools compared to God. And being patient with difficult people is part of the battle for holiness. After all, sometimes we are difficult people.