Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Friendship with saints

Suzanne posted Friendship in Christ over on her blog Come to See. It is a beautiful description of just what it means to be friends in Christ. I love that she includes saints. Indeed, friendships with saints are real and, like normal friendships, can happen very unexpectedly. I have several saintly friends, these are people to whom I feel close. This is one of those posts which certain people will point to and say, "See, I told you he was crazy!"

St. Gianna Molla

I became friends with St. Gianna Molla most unexpectedly almost two years ago while preparing a homily. I was almost done when suddenly I remembered that there was a saint, a medical doctor, who died while giving birth to a child she was encouraged to abort. I began searching and found St. Gianna. As I wrote about her I could see events, especially the agonizing birth and short clips of her few days of life afterwards, as well as of her family, including the daughter whose birth was so difficult, Gianna Emanuela, gathered in St. Peter's Square for her canonization. Now, was any of this "real" versus being a product of my imagination? Who knows? The interior reality of that moment and the sheer unexpected nature of all this leads me to conclude it was the former. Yesterday I was reading in Chauvet's book on the sacraments that "the imaginary tends to erase" the distance between the external world, apprehended via our senses, and its interior symbolic representation, thus allowing us "to regain the immediate contact with things" (pg. 15). I like this phenomenological description very much. On this score, as Husserl, the father of phenomenology, a school to which Edith Stein (i.e.. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) made serious contributions, intended, the subject/object distinction is overcome without resorting either to crude realism or infinitely regressing subjectivism, while at the same time avoiding seeing language as merely representational. My earliest experiences with serious philosophical research, while at a state university, were with a professor who was epistemologically evaluating mystical accounts of saints. I think he turned to me because I was religious, having been a Catholic for all of two years, and I was one of the more continentally inclined students in the department, as opposed to analytically inclined, deeply immersing myself at that time in phenomenology, especially the ethics of Max Scheler. Anyway, my whole experience on that day with St. Gianna, including what I wrote about her, happened in about three minutes.

I delivered the homily during that weekend's masses, only to discover on Wednesday, the day I posted it, that I was working on the homily on the day of her memorial, which is 28 April. So, not only am I a friend of St. Gianna, she actually initiated our friendship. The saints I have come to know, like all people, have personalities, that is, friendships with the saints, like all friendships, have dynamics of their own, it is not a one size fits all. In my experience, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (i.e., Edith Stein) is more retiring than the outgoing St. Gianna, and St. Stephen, the one who was ordained by the apostles to help with the daily distribution, but who was martyred for boldly proclaiming Christ, somewhat ironically, helps me to be prudent.

We always talk about Lenten reading, but I am going to suggest some Easter reading. If you have not yet done so, read Fr. James Martin's My Life With The Saints. I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I have read in the past five years.

Sancta Gianna- ora pro nobis.

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