November 23: Become a family of saints like St. Felicitas’ family

Saint Felicitatis and the heads of her seven sons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On this date, the Church commemorates Saint Felicitas, a Catholic woman who died a martyr and was buried in the Cemetery of Maximus in Rome during the early centuries of the Church. That much is fairly certain.

But there are other traditions associated with Saint Felicitas (also called Felicity). One tradition says that she was a wealthy widow in ancient Rome and that she had seven sons. When arrested for being Catholic, her sons all refused to renounce their faith and were beheaded in front of their mother, who was martyred last of all. Hence the image above, which vividly shows Felicitas proudly displaying the heads of her faithful sons. Some traditions even cite the names of the seven sons. Other traditions tell us that the martyrdoms of these eight faithful Catholics occurred in the year 165 under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

There are some who argue today that the tradition of the seven sons dying as martyrs with their mother is, at best, unproven, or at worst, a Catholic fiction based on the heroic story of Jewish faithfulness given in 2 Maccabees, chapter 7. In this passage of 2 Maccabees, a Jewish woman was forced to watch while her seven sons were killed for refusing to renounce their faith in the true God. Even the latest Martyrologium Romanum only lists Saint Felicitas as a martyr on November 23, omitting the sons.

However, there is the ring of truth in this tradition. Although it was technically illegal to be a Catholic from the time of the Roman emperor Nero’s edict in the year 64 until the time of the Roman emperor Constantine’s edict in the year 313, there were many periods of time when that law was not enforced or not enforced often. Christianity has always appealed to people from all backgrounds, rich and poor, and there have been times when Christians even (quietly) held important positions in the Roman government despite the official prohibition. It would not be unthinkable that a wealthy woman would become a Christian, raise her children in the faith, dedicate her time and money to serve the needy, and then be arrested precisely because she had become a bit too publicly Catholic for comfort. The Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who reigned during the time when Felicitas is presumed to have died, was a noble man and a good emperor. But Christians were still arrested and executed during his reign, sometimes because of persecution from local authorities and other times because of his edicts. Marcus Aurelius, like many other Roman emperors, found Christians inexplicably obstinate when they refused to do something that was seen as a simple but essential part of living in the Roman empire: offer worship to pagan gods.

Whether Saint Felicitas died alone or with her children, she died for Christ. Like all martyrs, we can ask for her help with our own problems, our own families, and our own spiritual battles as we try to become saints.

Saint Felicitas, show me how to help my family become saints.

November 16: Become a saint like St. Margaret of Scotland

Saint Margaret of Scotland
Anonymous; Unknown author, Public domain,
via Wikimedia Commons

Her life story as a young woman sounds so romantic it could be the plot-line for a Hollywood movie.

Saint Margaret of Scotland (c. 1045-1093) was the daughter of an exiled English king. When her father returned to England and then died, she and her mother tried to escape to the safety of Europe. But a storm forced the boat to land in Scotland, and the Scottish king, Malcolm III, gave them permission to stay in his kingdom.

Margaret had always been a devout girl, and she intended to become a nun. But as she spent her days in the Scottish court, her physical beauty and spiritual purity charmed Malcolm. He asked her to marry him, and she said yes.

But she wasn’t a Disney princess. She was a Catholic woman, so she didn’t abandon her duties to God in favor of her duties as queen. She prayed, served the poor, and financially supported the Church. She was a Catholic wife, so she gently helped her husband make wise decisions and live a more virtuous life. She was a Catholic mother, so she was personally involved in the education, particularly the religious education, of all eight of her children. As a Catholic queen, her leadership initiated a flowering of interest in the arts in Scotland, as well as interest in the Catholic faith. Her influence even led to a Church synod being held in Scotland to remedy problems specific to the country’s practice of the faith; that is, she “cleaned house” in the Catholic Church in Scotland, as well as in her own family.

In all of this, Saint Margaret was widely respected for her ability to lead others to greater holiness through her personal gentleness and through the beauty of the truth and the arts. May she help us to do the same with our own families today.

Saint Margaret of Scotland, help me and my family want to become saints.

November 9: Become married saints like the Quattrochis

Blesseds Luigi Quattrochi and Maria Corsini Quattrochi
By unknown author – Ludmiła Grygiel, Świętość dwojga, Warszawa 2002, s. 14, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9537481

Luigi Quattrochi (1880-1951) married Maria Corsini (1884-1965) in Rome, Italy, in 1905. During their more than four decades of marriage, Luigi became a lawyer, and Maria became a professor of education. Together, they had four children.

When Pope John Paul II announced the beatification of this married couple, he declared that they had lived “an ordinary life in an extraordinary way”. What made Luigi and Maria, as individuals and as a couple, so remarkable that they were the first married couple to be declared blesseds at the same time?

Some might think it was because of their holy children. Three of their children entered religious life; one became a priest, one became a nun, and one became a monk. The fourth child lived such a holy life that she’s a candidate for beatification herself. But having devout children is not sufficient cause for beatification, even though it would be very difficult to imagine every single child in a family growing up to be a faithful Catholic without those children having had very faithful Catholic parents.

Some might think the recognition of the holiness was due to their careers and public service. At the height of his career, Luigi was a prominent lawyer and attorney general of Italy. Maria was a noted public speaker and also very active in Catholic Action. (Several European nations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were governed by anti-Catholic regimes; Catholic Action was a lay association that asserted the rights of Catholics to live and behave like Catholics, peacefully but without apology for being Catholic.) During World War II, Luigi and Maria lived under Fascist rule, and when they recognized the dangers of Fascism, they opposed it. They even took the difficult and unpopular step of housing Jewish refugees in their own home.

But some of their sufferings were much more personal. Maria was diagnosed with placenta praevia during her fourth pregnancy, and she was advised to have an abortion. The condition was not treatable at that time, and the doctors recommended aborting the child to save the mother’s life. When Luigi and Maria received this terrible news, they prayed. Then they asked the doctors to induce premature labor—and credited God’s grace and mercy when both mother and child safely survived.

Did this miracle occur because God had already drawn so close to the hearts of this loving couple? After all, they received Communion daily, prayed a family rosary, volunteered as scout leaders for their kids, and served the needy in their parish and community. While we cannot know why God chose to miraculously save their unborn child, we can know one thing about how Blesseds Luigi and Maria became holy: they did it together. That path to sanctity is one that every Catholic couple can try to follow.

Blesseds Luigi and Maria, help me to become a saint.

November 3: Become a saint like St. Martin de Porres

Saint Martin de Porres
CarlosVdeHabsburgo, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a year when racial injustice and “colonialism” have become hot topics, there is no better saint for Election Day than Saint Martin de Porres.

Martin de Porres (1579-1639) was born the illegitimate child of a freed black slave and a Spanish knight in Lima, Peru. His father acknowledged that Martin and his sister were his children, but he virtually abandoned them and their mother when they were young. To learn a trade and support himself, Martin was apprenticed to a barber-surgeon, but he decided to enter the Dominican order as a lay brother when he was fifteen years old.

Martin was born in a poor family without an absent father and was a racial minority in a stratified society. What (or better, who) lifted Martin out of a potentially bitter, miserable life? It was God Himself.

Martin, as a faithful Catholic, knew that God loved him and had created him as a unique person in His own image. Nothing about the circumstances of his birth, life events, or even personal temperament were unknown to God, and none of those things could keep him from becoming a saint.

Because of his poverty, Martin knew that he needed to learn a trade, so he did. When he heard God’s call to become a vowed religious, his previous training as a barber-surgeon helped him care for the sick, and not only in the infirmary of his community, but also the poor of the greater community.

God gave Martin a naturally gentle disposition; this made him very approachable to those who found themselves in need of help. It is probably also the reason that the tenderhearted man established an animal shelter for cats and dogs, even though he had to locate it at his sister’s house since, as a Dominican, he had no private property of his own. His mixed race also opened doors for people of many ethnicities to see Martin as a sympathetic and understanding listener to their problems.

No fallen human being can become humble without the grace of God and a lot of effort, and everyone agrees that Martin was humble. Dominicans beg for money to support themselves, and Martin therefore had to beg money from people for the support of the community from time to time. But when his sister’s daughter needed a dowry so she could marry, Martin begged for her sake too, and he raised all that was needed in just a few days. Oh yes, and he somehow managed to beg enough financial support so that he could establish an orphanage and a hospital for the children in his city, something that literally would not have existed if he had been too proud to beg.

However stable or unstable your family of origin, however gentle or irascible your natural disposition, however lowly or exalted your opinion of yourself, Saint Martin de Porres teaches us that God can help you become a saint.

Saint Martin de Porres, help me become a saint.

Saints

Other resources on becoming a saint

Having All Saints’ Day fall on a Sunday has inspired many Catholic writers to write about how we can not only admire the saints but follow in their footsteps. Check out the following recent articles.

Fr. Charles Fox at Catholic World Report: Our vocation to holiness and the wonderful variety of the saints

Fr. Bevil Bramwell at The Catholic Thing: Faith — the Real Crisis

And Teresa Civantos Barber at Aleteia.org: 7 Books to inspire you on your journey to sainthood. (Her slideshow doesn’t include my book – I checked – but she does include a couple new books about saints that look great. My personal favorite is Butler’s Lives of the Saints, but be aware that there are multiple versions of Butler’s available today. Some are better than others. Read a sample before you invest in the pricier versions.)

Saints

Every Catholic’s goal for November 1: Become a saint

Saints
Detail of painting by Fra Angelico, Wikimedia Commons

Although the Church commemorates individual saints on particular dates throughout the year—typically on the date of the saint’s death—the Church gathers all the saints together for one big celebration on November 1. According to the Martyrologium Romanum, the official calendar of saints for the Church, there are twenty individual saints and blesseds remembered on this date as well. Those holy men and women include an Italian deacon who died a martyr during the days of the early Church; a Portuguese man who started life as a soldier but, after becoming a widower, became a lay brother and lived a life of penance; and a Greek rite Catholic priest who was poisoned by the Communists when he stood up for the rights of the Church. These saints, like the saints on every other day of the year, demonstrate the universality of the Church.

But All Saints’ Day is more than just a remembrance of all the greatest saints of the entire year, more than a remembrance of a handful of lesser-known saints, and more than a remembrance of all the unnamed and unknown men and women who are already in Heaven but whose names we won’t know until (please God) we join them there. All Saints’ Day is a reminder that all of us could be saints and all of us should try to be saints. That means you and me.

For the rest of the month of November, there will be blog posts on specific saints, not one of whom lived a life of blissful ease. All of them had personal quirks, suffered from family difficulties, and/or lived through tumultuous political events. For that reason, they are the perfect people to teach the rest of us how to become saints, one day at a time.

All you holy men and women, pray for us to become saints.