Saints Behind the Saints

“Be patient, my brothers, until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer awaits the precious yield of the soil.
He looks forward to it patiently
while the soil receives the winter and the spring rains.
You, too, must be patient.” - James 5:7-8

Behind every saint is another saint. 

I am fond of Advent for several reasons, most especially because the season is filled with so many saints. And as we discover the stories of these saints, we quickly see how the lives of the saints are often shaped by other saints. 

Advent begins with the Feast of Saint Andrew. St. Andrew famously went to his hard-headed brother Saint Peter, telling him news of the Messiah’s arrival. Andrew was first a disciple of Saint John the Baptist. 

On December 3rd, we observe the memorial of St. Francis Xavier, a follower of St. Ignatius of Loyola who became a missionary to the Far East. 

Saint John Damascene is honored on December 4th, born of a Christian family in the latter part of the seventh century. He was a monk in the monastery of Saint Sabbas near Jerusalem, and eventually became the first doctor of the Church. 

On Monday of this week, we gathered for our weekly rosary and customary school observance of Saint Nicholas. The elementary students were treated to a humorous rendition performed by the high school students involving a famous legend commonly associated with St. Nicholas. This legend was recounted by Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, a Dominican Friar and Archbishop of Genoa, Italy in the 13th century. 

After the death of his parents, Nicholas began to consider how he might make use of his great wealth, not in order to win men’s praise but to give glory to God. At the time a certain fellow townsman of his, a man of noble origin but very poor, was thinking of prostituting his three virgin daughters in order to make a living out of this vile transaction. When the saint learned of this, abhorring the crime, he wrapped a quantity of gold in a cloth and, under cover of darkness, threw it through a window of the other man’s house and withdrew unseen. Rising in the morning, the man found the gold, gave thanks to God, and celebrated the wedding of his eldest daughter. Not long thereafter the servant of God did the same thing again. This time the man, finding the gold and bursting into loud praises, determined to be on the watch so as to find out who had come to the relief of his penury. Some little time later Nicholas threw a double sum of gold into the house. The noise awakened the man and he pursued the fleeing figure, calling out, “Stop! Stop! Don’t hide from me!” and ran faster and faster until he saw that it was Nicholas. Falling to the ground he wanted to kiss his benefactor’s feet, but the saint drew away and exacted a promise that the secret would be kept until after his death.

Today we observe the memorial of Saint Ambrose, the outstanding teacher of the faith whose student reshaped the Western world: Saint Augustine. We also cannot neglect to mention St. Monica, the faithful mother who prayed so fervently for her son’s conversion, never losing hope in the effectiveness of grace. 

Tomorrow is of course the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, marking the moment when the life of Mary began in the womb of St. Anne. 

On December 12th, we honor Mary again, only this time because of her apparition to St. Juan Diego. Consider this impact of the saint behind the saint here in our own native land:

On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego, a Chichimeca Indian, encountered a beautiful young woman near Mexico City. Speaking in the native Nahuatl, she revealed herself as “Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live.” She requested that a chapel be built. After the local bishop refused to believe Juan, the Virgin herself arranged roses in Juan’s rough cloak. When Juan opened his cloak before the bishop, a miraculous image appeared. Numerous volunteers constructed Mary’s chapel in less than two weeks. In seven years, eight million native people were converted. Pope John Paul II called the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe the “Marian heart of America.”

On the very same day, we have another two saints linked together whose charisms were uniquely inspirational to the laity: Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, who was spiritually directed by Saint Francis de Sales. 

And then again, another two spiritual titans closely connected by their efforts to reform the Church: Saint John of the Cross, who was persuaded by Saint Teresa of Avila to begin a Carmelite order for men.  

Saint John of the Cross eloquently captures the wisdom that moved these saints:

Though holy doctors have uncovered many mysteries and wonders, and devout souls have understood them in this earthly condition of ours, yet the greater part still remains to be unfolded by them, and even to be understood by them.

We must then dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.

For this reason the apostle Paul said of Christ: In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God. The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training.

I think there is solace in these remarks because it confirms our lived experience of family life. And I want to encourage parents to think of themselves as saints behind the saints. There is nothing we want more for our children than for them to become saints. But if we are to look to the wisdom of those saints who won the ultimate prize of heaven, we should always remember that it takes time. It takes painstaking effort, a labor of love.

God alone grants the grace of a clarified intellect. This Advent, I pray that God will give us parents the grace to patiently persevere in this shared pursuit of sainthood. I was reminded very recently that God gives us the means of our sanctification, and very often we are for each other that instrument of grace. We only need to ask God for the grace to see as He sees, and much like those saints before us, we can bring about the sanctification of our children, while at the same time acknowledging they too are for us the means of our own growth in holiness. 

Please know that I am always praying for every single one of you. And please pray for me and my family too! We all need the prayers!

- Mr. Derek Tremblay, Headmaster