I’m beginning a four day retreat for seminarians at the Jesuit retreat house in southern Maryland today. I’ll be speaking to them about American Catholic spirituality as we see it in our saints and other important figures of our church. I’ll use the US Catholic Catechism for Adults as a basis for my talks. One of its features–which I’ve commented on recently– is its insertion of stories of the saints and others into the catechism to illustrate its teachings.
You can’t expect the short biographies in the US Catholic Catechism for Adults to tell you everything about these personalities of our church and their impact on our church and our world, but they are a start.
As I see it, writings about the saints has changed in recent times. For one thing, saints are more than people we pray to for some favor or miracle-workers we marvel at. They tell us how to live in this world. They are part of the communion of saints. “From their place in heaven, they guide us still.” (Preface of the Apostles)
Recent studies on the saints tend to dwell on the world they lived in and how they helped to shape that world. That’s also our task: to live in this world and to prepare it for God’s Kingdom that’s coming.
You can’t understand someone like Dorothy Day, for example, without looking at the social history of the United States from the 1930s onward. She reacted to the problems of her time, and so should we.
Recent studies on the saints tend to be less panegyric. Saints are not perfect. Writing on the saints follows the recent trend in biography which tries to tell as much as can be known about figures in the political or social or intellectual or religious worlds, their faults and failures as well as their virtues and accomplishments.
I hope to talk this week about Elizabeth Seton, John Neumann, the Jesuit Martyrs, Dorothy Day, Pierre Tousaint, Mother Cabrini and Theodore Foley.