October Saints

“May today there be peace within you.  May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.  May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.  May you use those gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you.  May you be content knowing that you are a child of God.  Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise, and love.  It is there for each and every one of us.”

Our church calendar dedicates the first few days of October in honor of Saint Therese of Lisieux (also known as Therese of the Child Jesus or The Little Flower), who authored the prayerful quote above, Saint Francis of Assisi, and the Guardian Angels.  To me, these days beckon us to simplicity, innocence, and unabashed joy.

Therese died in her early twenties near the end of the nineteenth century and was canonized in 1925; she was, arguably, the most popular saint of the twentieth century.  The youngest of five surviving children, her mother also died when she was only four.  Eleven years later she became a cloistered Carmelite nun.  Though it may seem irreverent to liken her spirituality to that of Ricky Bobby, infamous racecar driver of Talladega Nights, she related to God as a little child—not the grown man who vigorously preached, performed miracles, suffered deep passion, and sacrificed His life for us through great sorrow, but Jesus of the Christmas story who seemed untainted, soft, endearing, and free from the scourge of future pain.  She just wanted to be a little toy or ball or tiny creature that might bring Him joy, prompt a smile, or produce a happy sentiment.  Ricky Bobby preferred to pray to the “eight-pound, six-ounce, Baby Jesus, so cuddly but still omnipotent…”  As you might surmise, her perspective is sappy and childish to critics but, to those who relate, her sincerity and naivete is refreshing, attractive, and unpretentious.

I think the Guardian Angels stir up similar thoughts and feelings.  Happy emotions emerge when we are awarded a treasured emissary of God to personally light, guard, and guide us according to God’s rules while steering us to travel good paths and make wise choices.  Far more than an imaginary friend, in our guardian angel we have a divine companion ever close to us.  But for those who travel the well-worn path of drudgery and disappointment, these angels may seem farcical, superstitious, and less sophisticated than the childlike attitude of The Little Flower.

Saint Francis of Assisi is also presented to children through a magical image, usually alongside tame wolves, snow-white doves, and a menagerie of all God’s creatures, great and small.  But his life was not magical.  Though he didn’t live much longer on earth than Saint Therese, he was more worldly.  Rather than instinctively accepting the nature of being God’s child, he experienced battles, imprisonment, the attraction of fortune and prestige, the reality of poverty and disease, and the shame of disappointing his parents and being ostracized by his community.  But he was without guile and quickly returned to his created nature amidst all else that exists in its pure form.  Like a thirteenth century beatnik hippie, he followed the beatific beat of a different drum; it connected him intimately to mother earth, sister moon, even brother death.  He embraced his oneness with God and all that is created: land, sea, and sky.  He shed himself of material trappings and embraced hunger and longing so that he could stand pure and raw before God to offer himself fully.

The saints of early October tap into something deep inside each of us: the child within that periodically calls out to not be forgotten or dismissed by our grown self.  I have a hunch that when we touch the magnificent simplicity and splendid innocence of The Little Flower, Saint Francis, the Guardian Angels, and other symbols of guileless and trusting faith, we will sing and dance and rejoice in the glory of God’s goodness, trusting that we are exactly where we are meant to be.  And in that, we will rediscover unblemished peace and enlivened faith.

ps: The Saint Therese Little Flower Food Pantry at 5814 Euclid Avenue is running low of food supplies to feed hungry urban residents. We’re in particular need of canned vegetables, cereal, peanut butter, and protein pouches (like chicken and tuna). Thanks for your ongoing generosity.