Happy All Saints’ Day! Remember, today is a holy day of obligation, so if you are Catholic, you must attend Mass sometime today if you didn’t go last night. Check out the parish locator, call for Mass times, and take advantage of the graces of such a fantastic feast! (Snag our communion of saints coloring page for your kids.)
Saints are pretty awesome. The idea of a host of people too numerous to count who do nothing except worship God and pray for everyone who’s not in heaven definitely gives me comfort. When you’re too busy to pray, ask the saints to pray for you. When your prayer needs an extra boost, ask the saints to chip in, too. When you wander astray, ask for the help of the saints who had the same problems.
Saints with problems might seem like a contradiction, but they’re the reality. All saints were once men and women on Earth. They worried their mothers and struggled with sin, but the Church has bestowed the title of “saint” on the men and women who overcame temptation, won their struggles, and demonstrated enough heroic virtue before their deaths to inspire people on Earth even after their deaths and to influence miracles. Most traditional books about saints focus on their lives after their conversions—and for good reason: we shouldn’t go getting any ideas that we can be bad, clean up before the end, and slip into heaven. (That’s called the sin of presumption.) Sometimes, though, “she was a great sinner” doesn’t quite cover the reality of the lives of saints. Thomas J. Craughwell’s Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worshippers Who Became Saints seeks to flesh out those gaps, and it does so marvelously.
Craughwell’s selection of saints run the gamut from popular (St. Augustine) to those I’d never heard of before (St. Alipius), to one who isn’t canonized yet (Venerable Matt Talbot). Their tawdry past lives include sins such as worshiping false gods (a rumor about St. Patrick), warmongering (a reality for St. Columba), and theft (the source of St. Dismas’ name). Craughwell does an excellent job of organizing the saints chronologically, yet linking via essay-style techniques even those who didn’t know each other. He acknowledges that parts of his sordid stories are legendary (St. Christopher was real; whether the real man ever made a deal with Satan, we don’t know for sure), but includes enough real history for the budding hagiographer. The stories are brief enough to manage several in a single sitting, although pausing in the middle of one caused me great confusion when I picked it up again because the details are so extensive.
It is important to remember that the lives of the saints—however lurid—are supposed to inspire us to greatness. If people such as these can earn devoted followers and the public recognition of the Church, there’s hope for us lowly sinners yet. In his introduction, Craughwell writes:
The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill, but to understand how grace works in the world. Every day, all day long, God pours out his grace upon us, urging us, coaxing us, to turn away from everything that is base and cheap and unsatisfying, and turn toward the only thing that is eternal, perfect, and true—that is, himself.
Only God is truly good, but the rest of us ought to try to get as close to the good God as we can.
Who’s your favorite saint? What’s your confirmation name? Sound off in the comments below!