Sunday, January 6, 2008

My Life with the Saints

I just finished reading My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ. I thought it was great. A couple of quick thoughts that reflect on my consideration of Catholicism:

First, we Protestants are really missing out by not talking about the saints. I understand that Protestants don't share the same beliefs about praying to saints or their intercessory power. However, I don't understand why we don't talk about them at all. For example, the story of Charles Lwanga and the other Ugandan martyrs should be held up to all Christians as an example of faith and courage. And yet, I had never even heard of the story until reading this book. And the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux should be a help to all Christians in our walk with Christ. The Protestant reluctance to discuss the saints reminds me of our fear of the Virgin Mary. We're so afraid of the Catholic practices concerning Mary that we decide we just won't talk about her at all. This is our loss.

Secondly, I was struck by the diversity of the Catholic Church. All the different religious orders. Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Missionaries of Charity, Poor Clares, etc. etc. And the very different personalities of their founders. St. Ignatius was so different from St. Francis. And he was different from Mother Teresa. It struck me that if they had been Protestants, they might have just started their own denomination. What a strength of the Catholic Church that these different groups with different strengths and weaknesses and points of emphasis are still in communion with one another. I think this is a better Christian witness to the world that the hundreds and hundreds of different Protestant denominations.

Anyway, I really like the book. I'm trying to find some other good reading materials on the lives of the saints. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


Irenaeus said...

I wonder if the way you've phrased it -- that evangelicals don't have much to do with saints -- is entirely accurate. Historically, we've had our *heroes*. Think of how Luther's large personality looms large over Protestantism, or think of Foxe's Booke of Martyrs, or the many missionaries of the great missionary movements of the 1700s and 1800s, or how we're all excited (rightly) about William Wilberforce right now. Just a thought.

But you're right -- we don't have a disciplined sort of way of thinking about our heroes.

Devin Rose said...

My wife and I read Married Saints and Blesseds (Ignatius Press I think), and we especially enjoyed the story of St. Therese of Lisieux's parents, St. Louis King of France, and several others. This book focuses on saints who were married, which is cool.

Another way to learn more about the saints is to buy a book about a specific saint's life when you hear about one who interests you.

MHL said...

You know, Irenaeus, I haven't really thought of it that way before. May be Luther, Calvin and the other leaders of the Reformation are the Protestant saints. I had some cousins who owned a home at Lake Junaluska, a Methodist Retreat Center in the North Carolina mountains. There was an entire museum devoted to the Wesleys and the history of Methodism.

Of course, that feeds into a point that I made in another post. Sometimes I think we Protestants believe history began with the Reformation. Maybe I just didn't pay enough attention, but I've never heard anything much taught about the time period between the Book of Acts and the Reformation.

Irenaeus said...

Y'know, I've been to Junaluska many times. Small world.

I'm also reminded of what Thomas Howard hits on again and again in Evangelical is Not Enough: differences between prots and caths are often differences of degree, not kind. Even the most non-denominational sort of church has a basic liturgy, for instance. Or you'll find the occasional candle in a Baptist church, etc.

Thos said...

When I was challenged quite a few years ago about my Reformed faith by a Catholic (now Seminarian), he asked me, "who do you learn about and look to emulate in the faith?" I was taken aback. Besides Jesus, I could only think that we talk about the bravery and faith of Luther and Calvin. Foxe's Book of Martyrs came to mind, but I couldn't name a single Martyr covered in that book. In my reformed life, there was St. Augustine, because he was so relied upon by Calvin (so he was seen as an early Reformed Christian). There was Wycliffe, primarily because a bible translation organization is named for him. That's it. I have the impression too that my Christian history, besides the time in which the New Testament was composed, starts in the 15th century.

Irenaeus, I don't know that our use of candles makes us differ from Catholics only in degree. The Catholic lights a candle before an image of a saint to symbolize prayers offered up to that saint (or to God). I couldn't say why my church would light them (come to think of it, we don't). Our use of bread and wine for communion does not differ in degree, but absolutely differs in kind. Same too with Baptism! Probably the same with the act and meaning of ordination as well.

Peace in Christ,

Julie D. said...

You might enjoy reading Jon Sweeney's "Lure of the Saints: A Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition." My review is here, if you'd like a bit more info about it.

MHL said...


Thanks for the suggestion. I read your review and I think that is a book I would be interested in reading. I'll check it out.