I find the biographies of most of our saints–I’m thinking now of the saints of my community, the Passionists– weak in history, which tends to remove them from their time and their interaction with it. That makes them less challenging. They can make you believe that holiness means withdrawing from the world you live in when, actually, to be holy means engaging your times, not leaving them.
The world we live in is the path we’re put on when we’re born and our companion through our lifespan. It’s the cross we carry, the calvary on which we are displayed. Our blood, mingled with the blood of Christ, must fall on it to redeem it.
I’ve been thinking of St. Vincent Strambi, a Passionist who lived in Italy as the 18th century gave way to the 19th century. His cross was a world convulsed by Napoleon’s dreams of conquest and the changes brought about by the Enlightenment.
Strambi had a great devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, which for him was inspired by the sufferings he saw in the world around him.Some say over 4 million people were killed in the Napoleonic wars, military and civilians. So much innocent blood was shed then.
Strambi was part of that world; his blood was being shed too, not literally, but in the crucifying events of war, confusion, famine, sickness and change that affected his church, his community, his diocese, his country and the people he served. His devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus came mainly from his experience of his time, I think.
Father Fabiano Giorgini, a fine historian who died recently, wrote a short biography of Strambi which we’re going to translate into English. Someday I hope it will be an ebook.
I wonder, too, if a new generation of hagiographers is needed, drawn from the laity and not from religious communities who may be too prone to promote their own heros.