These Faithful Saints Will Make Amazing Spiritual Guides
As we bid farewell to the long days of summer, we usher in a new school year as well as other signs of Fall and in the month of September the feast days of many great saints. The Catholic Church honors some wonderful and wondrous holy men and women during the ninth month of the year. This blog posting will aim to summarize the lives of but a few and what we can learn from them.
Twins: Sts. Cosmas and Damian
We should never forget that all saints are human beings. In their humanity, they probably disobeyed their parents, fought with their siblings, broke curfew and forgot to clean their room from time to time. But, heroic virtue common to all saints was born and cultivated in those very homes—where they were loved and taught about God. Yes, the Saints had parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters. Some were only children; others had their own children. A few share their birthday with a brother or sister—twins!
I try to imagine the sanctity of a household that raised not one but two saints. I have wondered how a twin might support his or her likeness in their piety, prayer and path to salvation. Considering that both Cosmas and Damian were skilled doctors, they obviously backed one another in their professional endeavors as well. According to Franciscan Media:
"Little is known of the lives of these two saints except that they suffered martyrdom in Syria during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. Being prominent practitioners of medicine, it would have been hard for them to have remained unnoticed."
A church erected on the site of their burial was enlarged by the emperor Justinian. Devotion to the two saints spread rapidly in both East and West, and a famous basilica was erected in their honor in Constantinople. Their names were placed in the Roman Canon probably in the sixth century.
They were among those who are venerated in the East as the “moneyless ones” because, purportedly, they did not charge a fee for their services.
Indeed, the use of their gifts and talents to heal and their heroism in faith is why we celebrate these holy men and pray their names in the Litany of Saints. Their feast day is September 26.
Sts. Cosmas and Damian are the patron saints of barbers, pharmacists, physicians, and surgeons.
Doctors of the Church: St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great and St. Robert Bellarmine
While Cosmos and Damian were indeed doctors of medicine, Doctors of the Church are different. You will not find letters like MD or PhD after their name. However, this title, one that is just as prestigious, is bestowed upon certain saints.
According to Catholic Online, Doctor of the Church "indicates that the writings and preaching of such a person are useful to Christians 'in any age of the Church.'" Such men and women are also known for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings. While the writings of the Doctors are often considered inspired by the Holy Spirit; this does not mean they are infallible, but it does mean that they contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching in at least one area.
Catholic Culture adds that this title has been given since the Middle Ages "to certain saints for their defense and explanation of the truths of the Catholic Faith. Their preaching is outstanding, guiding the faithful through all periods of the Church’s history.”
Saint Jerome has long been hailed as one of the great, early doctors of the Church. "Born to a rich pagan family, Jerome led a wild and misspent youth. Studied in Rome, Italy, and became a lawyer. He converted and joined the Church in theory, and was baptised in 365, but it was only when he began his study of theology that he had a true conversion and the faith became integral to his life" (CatholicSaints.Info).
He then became a monk. Needing isolation for his study of Scripture, he lived for years as a hermit in the Syrian deserts. There he is reported to have drawn a thorn from a lion's paw; the animal stayed loyally at his side for years.
A priest, a Doctor of the Church and a Church Father, St Jerome is best known for his translation of the Bible. Commissioned by St. Gregory of Nazianzen, it took St. Jerome 30 years to create the Vulgate translation—the standard Latin version which is still in use today. His feast day is September 30.
St. Jerome is the patron saint of librarians, translators, and scholars.
St. Gregory the Great
Though he was not a twin, St Gregory the Great hails from a Holy Family. Both his mother, Silva and his aunts Tarsilla and Emiliana are canonized saints! Like St. Jerome, he is one of four great Latin Doctors and in addition to St. Leo, he is but one of two Popes to have earned the title “Great.”
In “What Makes a Pope Great?” Steve Weidenkopf writes, “Gregory is considered one of the “great” popes due to his defense of papal primacy, his theological writings (he wrote a work entitled Pastoral Care, on the role and duty of bishops) and his support for missionaries, who succeeded in spreading the Faith in Britain.” Many of the faithful might consider the title to be well-earned for his contribution to liturgical music. The Gregorian chants are a wonderful means of prayer.
"At thirty years of age he became the Prefect of Rome, the highest civil dignity of that city. On his father's death in 574 he gave his great wealth to the poor, turned his house on the Caelian Hill into the monastery which now bears his name, and for several years lived as a perfect monk . . . The Pope drew him from his seclusion in 578 to make him one of the seven deacons of Rome; and for seven years he rendered great service to the Church as what we now call Papal Nuncio to the imperial court at Constantinople" (Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, John Gilmary Shea).
On the death of Pope Pelagius II, Saint Gregory was compelled to take upon himself the government of the Church, and for fourteen years his pontificate was a perfect model of ecclesiastical rule. He healed schisms, revived discipline, and saved Italy by converting the wild Arian Lombards who were laying it waste; he aided in the conversion of the Spanish and French Goths, who also were Arians, and kindled anew in Britain the light of the Faith, which the Anglo-Saxons had extinguished in blood. He set in order the Church's prayers and chant, guided and consoled her pastors with innumerable letters, and preached incessantly, most effectively by his own example. Many of his sermons are still extant and are famous for their constant use of Holy Scripture. His writings are numerous and include fourteen books of his letters.
Whether one prays with his letters or offers up Gregorian chants, this great pope’s gift to the Church is magnanimous. His feast day is September 3.
St. Gregory the Great is the patron saint of England, epilepsy, musicians, and teachers.
St. Robert Bellarmine
St. Robert Bellarmine is a saint named as a doctor of the church in (more) recent history. Canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930, St. Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit priest, was declared a Doctor one year later, in 1931. He was one of the most important cardinals of the Catholic reformation.
Robert Bellarmine was born to an impoverished yet noble family at Montepulicano in Italy. His father had hope that Bellarmine would restore the family’s fortunes through a political career. Instead, he pursued religious life and joined the Society of Jesus. According to IgnatianSpirituality.com, "On completion of his studies, Bellarmine taught first at the University of Louvain in Belgium. In 1576 he accepted the invitation of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) to teach polemical theology at the new Roman College."
Robert Bellarmine spent the next 11 years teaching and writing his monumental Disputations on the Controversies, a three-volume defense of the Catholic faith against the arguments of the Protestant reformers. A confidant to the popes, Bellarmine held a number of positions, including rector of the Roman College, examiner of bishops, Cardinal Inquisitor, archbishop of Capua, and bishop of Montepulciano.
Through his writings Bellarmine was involved in the political, religious, and social issues of the time. He argued with King James I of England and was a judge at the trial of Giordano Bruno. Bellarmine also communicated the decree of condemning the Copernican doctrine of the movements of the earth and sun, issued by Congregation of the Index to Galileo Galilei in 1616.
Although he was one of the most powerful men in Rome, Bellarmine lived an austere life. He gave most of his money to the poor. Once he gave the tapestries from his living quarters to the poor, saying that the walls wouldn’t catch cold. While he took little regard for his own comforts, he always saw to it that his servants and aides had everything they needed.
Today many Jesuit schools and parishes are named in his honor. His life and legacy is worth emulating for students, teachers—all the faithful. His feast day is September 17.
St. Robert Bellarmine is the patron saint of catechists and catechumens.
Saints from the Society of Jesus: St. Peter Claver, SJ
In addition to St. Robert Bellarmine, the Jesuits celebrate St. Peter Claver as one of their own. They should because Claver, the Patron Saint of African missions exemplifies what Ignatius of Loyola wrote in the Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius believed “Love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words.” Drawn to missionary work after learning about the atrocities of the slave trade, Peter Claver’s tireless efforts as a priest, teacher, physician and friend, saved lives and gathered souls. He instructed, converted and baptized over 300,000 people.
As written by Franciscan Media, “his apostolate extended beyond his care for slaves. He became a moral force, indeed, the apostle of Cartagena. He preached in the city square, gave missions to sailors and traders as well as country missions, during which he avoided, when possible, the hospitality of the planters and owners and lodged in the slave quarters instead.”
It is for reasons such as these that he is a patron saint to many—in particular people of color in the Catholic Church. His feast day is September 9.
St. Peter Claver is the patron saint of African Americans, African missions, Colombia, comedians, communication workers, and interracial justice.