Check Out These February Saints to Help You Fight the Winter Blues
The month of February can feel dreary and unexciting. For many of us, winter feels endless, and we begin to crave the life that bursts forth in the growth of spring. Similarly, in the time between the end of Christmastide and the beginning of Lent, we may feel the desire for a reinvigoration of our spiritual life. As we contemplate entering into the time of Lent, where we await the Resurrection, it is helpful for us to think of ways in which we might prepare to fill our souls with the joy of the risen Christ.
One such way is to consider the lives of the many holy men and women who have gone before us. February is home to a number of feasts of great saints who can inspire us to live out our Catholicism to the fullest extent and help us always seek to permeate our lives with Christian virtue.
St. Josephine Bakhita
An example of how we may courageously rise to occasions of suffering is the life of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese woman who was born around the year 1869. Her father was a respected tribal chief of the Daju people, and as such, Josephine lived without suffering in her early childhood. All that changed when she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders at approximately the age of eight. From then on, Josephine was forced to walk hundreds of miles to a slave market, was bought and sold repeatedly, and suffered exceedingly painful abusive treatment at the hands of her owners. In 1883, she was sold to a kinder man, the Italian Vice Consul, who agreed to bring her to Italy with him.
Eventually, Josephine was placed in custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice while one of her subsequent owners was away. Josephine, who was not a Catholic at this time, felt a deep pull towards life with Christ. When her mistress returned, she refused to leave the convent, feeling intensely that it was her home. Authorities became involved, and eventually it was found that Josephine had been illegally enslaved, and she was declared a free woman and baptized in 1890.
Josephine Margaret Fortunata, as was now her Christian name, took her final vows with the Canossian sisters in 1896. She spent the remaining years gently and lovingly serving her community of sisters. When speaking of her enslavement, she spoke with a voice of gratitude: as she said, if she had never been kidnapped and enslaved, she might never have been brought to Christ. After suffering from physical ailments later in her life, she died in 1947, calling out to Our Lady. From the life of St. Josephine, we can see how suffering can truly be redemptive, and like her, we can strive to accept our crosses knowing that they can bring us closer to Christ.
Ss. Cyril and Methodius
February 14th is commonly regarded as the feast of St. Valentine. However, not much is known about the saint whose feast day has become so ubiquitous, even in secular culture. Two saints who we celebrate on this day who are historically a bit better-known are the brothers Ss. Cyril and Methodius. They are credited with translating almost all of the Bible and the works of the Fathers of the Church into Slavonic, and are regarded as founders of Slavonic literary and Christian culture.
Born Constantine and Methodius to a Thessalonian Christian family, the brothers became familiar with the Slavonic language in different ways. Constantine became a scholar and philosopher, and Methodius a civil official who later tired of worldly affairs and sought monastic life. Together they became missionaries to the Ukraine in the 860s, and throughout their time both there and afterwards, upheld the importance of professing one’s faith in the vernacular. This idea was of political importance as well and, in many ways, was a challenge for Constantine and Methodius to execute. Ultimately, the brothers gained permission from the Pope for the liturgy to be held in Slavonic.
Constantine died shortly afterwards in the year 1869 after assuming monastic robes and taking the name Cyril. Methodius, though grief-stricken, returned to his missionary work at his late brother’s behest. Eventually he became bishop of Sirmium, near Belgrade, Serbia. Methodius continued to experience criticism of and efforts against his work to celebrate the liturgy in the vernacular, but Methodius persisted, and ultimately his efforts along with his brother Cyril’s succeeded and laid the foundation for Christianity in that region.
The lives of Ss. Cyril and Methodius shows us the kind of persistence that we ought to have even in ordinary circumstances. Their work ultimately changed the face of the Church where they lived. Like them, we can also work to persist in our Catholic beliefs, and in doing so seek to spread the Gospel wherever we may be.
St. Brigid of Kildare
Joining St. Patrick and St. Columba as one of the patron saints of Ireland, St. Brigid of Kildare was born into slavery in the 5th century. Her holiness was apparent throughout her childhood, and it seemed as though she was practically unable to resist helping those less fortunate than herself. It is said that there were even miraculous occurrences in her early childhood, such as a store of butter being replenished after she had generously given it away. Her father eventually grew irritated at the fact that she had repeatedly been giving away his possessions, and sought to sell her to the King of Leinster. While her father, Dubthach, was away speaking to the king, Brigid took his jeweled sword and gave it to a beggar to exchange for food for his family. The king saw Brigid’s generosity as a sign of her holiness and granted her her freedom.
Around the year 480, Brigid founded a monastery at Kildare on the site of a shrine to a pagan goddess of the same name. Brigid is credited with being the first to organize women’s consecrated religious life in Ireland. She is also credited with founding a school of art, including metalwork and illumination. According to tradition, Brigid died in the year 525 in Ireland. From the life of St. Brigid, there are several things we may learn as we approach Lent. The Church proposes that Lent is a time during which Catholics should especially focus on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Many Catholics take to heart the first two, but may forget that almsgiving is a part of Lent as well. We can be inspired by St. Brigid to give to those who need it whenever we can, and seek to make our Lent a season of generous self-sacrifice. In addition, noting that Brigid founded her monastery on a pagan site, we can also feel encouraged to reclaim aspects of Christianity that have been otherwise lost or twisted in some way.
Bl. Benedict Daswa
A saint who is both incredibly modern and inspiring is Bl. Benedict Daswa, who died as a martyr in 1990. He was born in South Africa in 1946, and converted nearly twenty years later. He took the name Benedict after Benedict of Nursia, having been greatly inspired by his motto of ora et labora, or “pray and work.” Benedict modeled these things beautifully, as he was a loving father to eight children and a supportive husband who assisted his wife in all manner of childcare and housework (practically unheard of at the time in his culture). He helped build the first church in his area, served as secretary of the local traditional council and became the principal of the school at which he taught, advocating especially for the education of young girls who would otherwise be married off to older men.
Benedict was a highly respected member of his community, and his contributions were exceedingly valued. This would unfortunately contribute to his eventual martyrdom. In November 1989, his village began to suffer from unusually severe storms. After two months of such weather, townsfolk were convinced it was the result of magic, and demanded that all residents pay a tax to begin a witch hunt. Benedict declined to pay the $2 tax, saying the storms were natural phenomena, as he was unwilling to be complicit in belief in the occult. In February 1990, as Benedict drove home from bringing his sister-in-law and her sick child to the doctor, he was ambushed by a group who was displeased with his Catholic beliefs and he was stoned, beaten and clubbed to death. His last words were “God, into Your hands receive my spirit.” He was declared a martyr and then beatified in 2015.
From Blessed Benedict, we can be inspired to think of the importance of all the small acts of our lives, especially in the upcoming Lenten season. Although it was a mere two dollars that Benedict refused to pay, on principle, he could not contribute and died for his commitment to his faith.
Preparing for Lent
As we approach this next liturgical season, let us feel strengthened and full of hope for the promise of the Resurrection. Through contemplating the lives of the saints, we can learn to follow in the examples of their lives and strive to always make efforts to fill our lives with virtuous works. Like St. Josephine, may we be courageous; like Ss. Cyril and Methodius, may we persevere; like St. Brigid, may we be generous; and like Bl. Benedict, may we be ever steadfast in our faith. All saints, pray for us!