Saints Alive

I received a link to this commencement address given by Cardinal Pell on the life of St. John Fisher. Having grown up at a parish named for this virtuous scholar, I take a great interest in his life. I was delighted to find his biography at a used book store a few years ago, wherein I learned about his devotion to prayer, fasting, and study. Almost singlehandedly he brought England into the modern era and stood alone in his defense of the papacy and the sacrament of marriage (that More stood with him was a fact withheld by his jailers). Neither did he know that he'd been elevated a Cardinal. He simply went to his death convinced of the Truth, thus confirming his resemblance to the Christ he so reverently adored.

I have also been dipping into hagiographical realms to uncover a patron saint for my newborn friend, Sydney Grace Vedders. I found St. Gracia, the daughter of a Spanish caliph, martyred circa 1180. She seems most suitable, since her feast falls within the same month as Sydney's birthday, but there were some other venerati by the name of Grace. One had her breasts cut off in 380 (not the sort of story you want to explain to a small child) and the other is only known because her skull is to be found under an altar in Cornwall next to her husband, St. Probus. While I am intrigued to learn of a married couple having been canonized, which is rare, there isn't much of a story to share. St. Gracia on the other hand was a Moor who converted to the faith with her brother and sister. When they tried to convert their other brother, he turned them over to the authorities, and they were all three of them killed. Wow! Reading between those lines, you could make a movie! Perhaps it will inspire young Sydney to be very respectful of her two older sisters...
Then there's this image of Our Lady of Grace, in which Jesus is offering the milk of His Mother for those who wish to receive His grace. Since the salvation of the world through Jesus could not have come about without Mary's gift of self, she becomes the Mediatrix or channel or instrument of Grace. Right at this moment, Sydney's mother is giving her life and nourishment through her breasts, just as Mary once gave Jesus life and nourishment, just as we can go to her for New Life and Everlasting Nourishment, because Mary's love will always increase our love of Jesus.

This, according to the website where I found the picture, was Padre Pio's favorite devotional image. St. Pio, who received the stigmata, was truly an adorer of Christ. When we say the Christian faith was mother's milk to him, it's true on so many levels.

As if this weren't a sufficient patronage for dear Sydney Grace, we can consult her first name. According to Wikipedia, "Sydney" is a contraction of the name of a Norman village, Saint-Denis. One of the 14 Holy Helpers, St. Denis was the first bishop of Paris, beheaded by pagans. And so we come full circle: great men and women, convinced by Grace that Jesus really is who He says He is and the Church really means what she says she means-- forced to kneel at the executioner's feet. Whether their heads were removed or their breasts, we do not recall these gruesome details pointlessly. They are known as beati, after all, men and women whose tragic ends were only the beginning.

We will not meet the same fate (I certainly pray nothing remotely tragic falls upon dear Sydney). Yet, we can imitate the lives they led up until their gruesome deaths- the lives that were lived as beautiful testimonies of grace at work with the human spirit: John Fisher sipping broth so that he could give his salary to the poor; Pio laboring for hours in the Confessional for love of souls who flocked to him; Gracia and her siblings, so overcome by love of Jesus, they could not wait to tell their brother, and welcome him to Paradise outside the confines of palaces and treasuries; Denis traveling up the Seine with friends, exuberant with anticipation of meeting souls who had never heard of Christ; and Maria, Immaculate Queen, praying in solitude in a quiet place called Nazareth, looking eastward over olive groves and flocks of sheep, waiting for the Promised One to come. Mary before the angelic news, Pio before the bleeding in his hands, John Fisher while still a student-- these are the men and women we are called to imitate.

Pray for us, all you holy men and women~
May their intercession bring Sydney to the fullness of grace and perfection!

Welcome, thou Beauty!

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