Finding the Right Voices

To me, the coolest part of Catholicism is the saints.  Note that I didn't say the best part--by definition, the best part is the whole business of God becoming man, dying, and rising from the dead.  That's the best part.  But the saints are the coolest and most interesting part of Catholicism, because they express the diversity of the "catholic" or universal church.  There are people from every part of the world, from every time, and from every situation.

But it is not simply about diversity for diversity's sake.  The diversity means that the saints provide a variety of ways to be a Catholic and to be holy.  While ultimately each of them is talking about the same God, they talk about it in different ways.  These different ways of talking about God mean that different people will find different saints speak to them more than other saints.  That's a feature and not a bug--you don't have to "click" with every saint.

In hindsight, I think one of the difficulties I had in the Dominicans is that I never really "clicked" with Saint Dominic.  On paper, it seemed like a perfect fit--the studious, simple man who set out to communicate God's word to the people.  But it didn't work out that way for me.  I found Dominic's certainty as to what he was being called to do alien and deeply off-putting--he seemed so sure, and I was so unsure, so his experience was hard for me to relate to.  I found Dominican spirituality to be vague and amorphous, and I never really got a grasp of it.  For others, I imagine Dominic's certainty is a guiding star, and the flexible nature of Dominican spirituality freeing.  I am certainly not saying there is anything wrong with St. Dominic.  But, it didn't work for me.

Of late, I've been trying to find other saints that I might "click" with.  Two of them have bubbled to the surface.  One is Saint Francis of Assisi.  Until recently, I never gave a hard look at Francis--I always associated him with talking to the birds and all of the "cute" elements of his life that people tend to focus on.  A long time ago I saw the Fellini movie "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," which portrayed him as the forerunner of the 60's flower child.  No, thank you.

I decided to look more at Francis because of the Pope.  Why did this man, a Jesuit, choose Francis as his inspiration?  More than anything else, Francis is a man who focuses on the fundamentals.  The great spiritual insight of St. Francis is that if you try to live the way Jesus lived and follow the things than Jesus said to do, then the rest of Christianity will mostly take care of itself.

Francis sought to live in a radical way, not as the prelude to some kind of revolution, but as an inspiration and a path for others to follow.  Instead of focusing on what others were doing (or not doing), Francis was totally focused on what he was doing.

Francis also was a mystic, who sought (and eventually achieved) a very profound and personal encounter with God.  The idea of mysticism seems esoteric and a little scary, but Francis, to me, makes that experience more accessible and human--something that might be in reach for regular people, as opposed to a joyless act of extreme detachment from the world.

Another person who was a mystic and a radical was St. Teresa of Avila.  Teresa, too, made the spiritual life seem like something that was accessible to non-super humans.  But Teresa also brings a toughness to the idea of sainthood.  In a world (16th Century Spain) where women were either irrelevant or merely baby-making machines, Teresa managed to become one the first great writers in the Spanish language, despite having no real formal education.  She also managed to initiate a reform movement that among the Carmelites, despite strong opposition from the powers-that-be,
ended up not only surviving to the present day, but influenced a branch of the men's portion of the Carmelites to the point that they view her as a founder.  I don't know for certain, but I think that makes her the only female founder of a men's religious order in the Catholic Church.

There is much more I want to say about both of them--this is more or less an introduction to these two people.  I think that, for now, I am going to focus on these two people to see what they have to say to me.


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