XXI - XIX Saints Gregory the Great, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp
XVIII - XIV Saints Jerome, John Chrysostom, Elijah
XV - XIII Saints Therese of Lisieux, Teresia Benedicta, Teresa of Avila
XII - X Saints John of the Cross, Benedict of Nursia, Thomas Aquinas
IX - VII Saints Sultana Mahdokht, St. Dominic, St. Monica
|St. Augustine of Hippo|
6-St. Augustine (354 AD – 430 AD) [Doctor of the Church]
The few lines I will write here will do a great injustice to a man like St. Augustine because I can never describe the magnitude of the influence he has had on the entire development of human thought. He is a Doctor of the Church, and his contributions to the doctrine of the Catholic faith are too numerous to be counted. St. Augustine is born to a Christian mother, St. Monica, and a non-believing father who is later baptized on his deathbed. Throughout his life, he embraces and repudiates various philosophies. In his late teens, he is drawn to the Manichean heresy, a sect that combines Christian elements with that of Babylonian, Judaic and Gnostic religions. Manichaeism sees the universe as a duality consisting of matter and spirit. All matter is evil, while all spirit is good. As time passes, St. Augustine’s continuous fascination with sin and the meaning of evil prompts him to reject the simplistic explanations of Manichaeism. By profession, he is a teacher of Rhetoric. Throughout his life, he is caught up in a life of licentiousness and promiscuity. However, his burning desire for the Truth remains with him, and he realizes that his lower appetites are a barrier to his pursuit of the metaphysical Truth. He studies the Bible thoroughly. While in Rome, he and his friend Alypius host a friend who tells them about the life St. Anthony, a desert monk. Suddenly, St. Augustine feels his heart burning within him for a life of asceticism and renunciation. He leaves his friend Alypius and goes to the garden alone. There, he begins to weep greatly to express the great conflict in his heart between his carnal desires and his pursuit of the Truth. The most difficult obstacle for him to overcome is achieving continence. The thoughts passing through his head at this time are ‘How long shall I go on saying “tomorrow, tomorrow”? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?’ (Confessions VIII, 12). While he asks these questions, he hears the voice of a child. Let me give you his own account:
I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, Take up and read; take up and read. Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, “Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me” (Mathew 19:21). And by such oracle was he immediately converted unto You. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles , when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell—“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:13-14). No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubts vanished away (Confessions VIII, 12).
Thus St. Augustine is thoroughly converted to Christianity. After being baptized by St. Ambrose of Milan, he embraces a life of celibacy. His writings have influenced the western hemisphere for centuries. If anyone is seeking Truth earnestly, I recommend this Saint. He is my personal favourite.
|St. John the Apostle|
5-St. John the Apostle (c. 6 AD – c. 100 AD)
This man truly understands love because it is the concept that he discusses the most in his gospel and three letters. For St. John, love is not strictly an emotional undertaking that is expressed by words and feelings. Instead, it is the active participation in Christ’s sufferings. We do not love with “words,” but with “actions” (1 John 3:18). This is where the line is drawn between true love and some fake, sentimental feeling. True love demonstrates itself in our deeds. We make a conscious decision to obey Our Lord regardless of how we feel or think. Moreover, all love is to be measured against the ultimate act of love performed by God on the cross for us. If it is anything less than sacrificial, then it is inferior to what Christ gave us because “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend” (John 15:13). Somewhere else, St. John writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This is further proof of Christ’s divinity. If “God is love,” and no one has “greater love” for us than Christ, then Christ is God. After embracing this profound love, a human soul finds itself prepared to give itself for the benefit of others. As a result, we waste ourselves for others. Our identity is shaped by this love. We demonstrate it at work, in school, on the streets and at home. Another important concept in St. John’s writings is the idea of being “born again” (John 3:5). The first birth is from our parents; the second birth is achieved by “water” and “Spirit,” which is the Sacrament of Baptism (John 3:5). Baptism washes our soul from Original Sin, and it allows us to enter the Kingdom of God. It is the doorway to other Sacraments, namely the Eucharist. St. John’s gospel imitates the style of the Book of Genesis and its creation narrative. The first creation in Genesis is a physical one, which is later subject to the Fall of humanity through which death and suffering enter the world. However, the second creation narrative written by St. John is a spiritual creation that reveals the work of God in humanity. God’s aim is to save humanity, and He does not accomplish it by fixing the old, but rather, He recreates humanity again. Those who are not “born again” will die twice, while those who are “born again” will die only once. First death is the separation of soul and body, and the second one is the eternal separation of the soul from God. Therefore, born once, die twice; born twice, die once. Without the second birth, no one can “enter” heaven (John 3:5). St. John is the “disciple whom Jesus loved the most” (John 13:23).
|St. John the Baptist|
4-St. John the Baptist (5 BC – 28 AD) [Martyr]
Few men can be compared with this fearless prophet. St. John the Baptist’s ascetic way of life underlines his vision for the future Kingdom where he will be spending his eternity. Rather than wasting time worrying about what to “eat,” what to “drink” or what to “wear,” he runs off to the desert seeking God’s “Kingdom” and His “righteousness” (Mathew 6:33). His diet consists of “locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:6). When standing in front of vicious tyrants, we find him unafraid of declaring God’s judgment and righteousness. King Herod falls in love with Herodias, his brother’s wife, while his brother is still alive. St. John tells him that “it is unlawful” to “take his brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Herodias in turn holds a “grudge” against John and convinces Herod to “chop off” his head as a reward for the sexual favour rendered to Herod by Herodias’ daughter (Mark 6:19,27). The sense of perversion and depravity in Herod’s circle is especially underlined when the niece gratifies her uncle’s sexual cravings and convinces him to marry her mother. Nonetheless, the “greatest man born of a woman” announces the truth of God bravely and earnestly regardless of how unpopular and rejected it may be (Luke 7:28). How many of us today are ashamed to speak out against abortion, contraception or homosexual acts because our position is unpopular? St. John is especially singled out because he is one of the three characters from the New Testament whose coming is prophesied in the Old Testament. Of course, the other two characters are the Blessed Virgin and Lord Jesus. To be grouped among the holy names of Jesus and Mary is a tremendous honour bestowed on a human being. As already noted, St. John’s coming is already foreshadowed by Prophet Elijah. The two characters have many common attributes. Moreover, the Old Testament announces the coming of St. John on more than one occasion. Prophet Malachi says that a “messenger” will “prepare” the way for God (Malachi 3:1). Again, Isaiah says about St. John that there is going to be “a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way for the Lord’” (Isaiah 40:3). May the intercession of this holy prophet, martyr and saint grant us the courage to declare God’s words everywhere we go.