by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Snow in May reminded me of the 2000 winter Olympics. At the time, I was an auxiliary bishop in St. Loouis. I had not paid much attention to the Olympic games.
However, I did watch the women’s figure skating final, because of a visit with some friends the night the competition was being televised.
I actually felt sorry for the young women that were competing. Each of them, after completing their program, burst into tears because they were so relieved their performance was over. Except for one! A 16-year-old American skater, Tara Lipinski, actually seemed to be having fun and smiled radiantly when she completed her program. Tara became the youngest woman to win the gold medal for figure skating.
Tara’s skating was athletic and beautiful, but what intrigued me more was her composure. She was obviously enjoying what she was doing despite the enormous pressure of the competition. A few days after her victory, I read an article about Tara Lipinski in which she was asked what was going through her mind when making one of her most difficult jumps. Tara said she was “concentrating on making the jump and begging St. Thérèse for help.”
Tara had a deep devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Tara sensed that St. Thérèse was accompanying her. She said it helped her to think of St. Thérèse. It made Tara more relaxed. She said in the interview: “When I’m competing, it helps me because I know she (St. Thérèse) is with me and wants me to do this. It makes me feel calmer and I go for everything.”
Tara’s mother, Pat, also shared her daughter’s devotion to St. Thérèse. Pat Lipinski observed that she did not think St. Thérèse really cared about her daugh- ter winning the gold medal, but somehow St. Thérèse wanted to use Tara’s skating to draw others to Jesus.
Sometimes, I use that story in my confirmation homily to encourage our young people to develop
a similar friendship with their confirmation saint. Our Catholic understanding of the communion of saints is one of the most beautiful aspects of our faith. We believe that just as we can invite holy and prayerful people in this world to pray for us, we can also ask the saints to go to God with us in prayer. Saints can become great friends who support us with their prayers.
I was reminded of this several months ago when I read the book “My Sisters the Saints,” by Colleen Carroll Campbell. The book is a spiritual memoir in which this former presidential speechwriter traces her faith life from her undergraduate years at Marquette University to her life now as a wife, mother, journalist and EWTN television host.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is gifted writer who describes quite candidly her spiritual struggles as a college student in 1990s, dealing with her father’s long and eventually fatal bout with Alzheimer’s, the tensions between career and marriage, and her struggle with infertility. Interwoven in this spiritual memoir is Colleen Carroll Campbell’s devotion to six female saints: Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, Faustina, Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. These saints were instrumental
in helping Colleen Carroll Campbell work through some personal trials, as well as fostering her own spiritual growth.
I highly recommend this book for women and men. I am confident that you will find it both insightful and inspiring. Perhaps it will also motivate you to develop your own friendship with saints. If you are looking for a book to give to your mom or the mother of your children, “My Sisters the Saints” is my recommendation.
If you are more high-tech, Dr. Paul Camarata, the chief of neurosurgery at KU Medical Center, produces periodically a podcast entitled “Saint Cast.” He gives an update about saints recently in the news and usually features a more in-depth reflection on one particular saint.
When I was preparing to leave St. Louis to come to Kansas, a friend asked me to give her a list of my 12 favorite saints. Actually, I found it difficult to limit the list to 12.
My top twelve were: Thomas Aquinas (patron of my home parish), Mother Teresa, Joseph (foster father of Jesus and my patron), Louis IX (King of France and patron of my hometown), Therese of Lisieux, Thomas More, John Neumann (only U.S. bishop to be canonized a saint), John Mary Vianney (patron of priests and secondary patron for our archdiocese), Peter Claver (missionary to the slaves), Luke (my favorite evangelist), Rose Philippine Duchesne, who lived in St. Louis and Kansas, and Mary.
My friend made a little booklet for me with a meditation and a prayer for each saint — one for each month of the year. I enjoy spending one month during the year with these saint friends.
The Little Sisters of the Lamb have a beautiful All Saints Day custom, selecting by lottery a special saint for each member of the community. The idea is to grow in friendship with that saint throughout the year. They have been thoughtful enough to include me in the lottery the past three years. My saint this year is St. Athanasius, a courageous and heroic bishop who was exiled from his diocese three times. Maybe the Little Sisters are trying to tell me something?
There are many, many ways to cultivate friendships with the saints. Perhaps as part of your Year of Faith observance, you might want to foster a devotion to a particular saint. Reading the lives of the saints and the writings of the saints is informative and inspirational. Our saint friends may not help us win an Olympic gold medal, but they will help us face the challenges of this life and, more importantly, help us get to heaven. It sure will be nice to have a crowd of saints welcoming us to our heavenly home.