St. Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of television – something I didn’t actually know in the 1990s when I was working in that industry. But Clare and I have shared a spiritual kinship going back to my childhood – back before I even knew who she was. Back when she tried to break me out of prison.
I was about 8 years old when I had this dream, but it has stuck with me ever since. In the dream, I was in some kind of prison cell. A young girl with long blonde hair pointed out to me that when the guards opened the cell door to put someone in, those on the inside could slip out and get away. The one caveat was that I couldn’t bring my favorite stuffed dinosaur toy with me. I had to, as St. Paul once wrote, put away childish things.
It was only years later, in reading a description of the young Clare Offreduccio, that I recognized her as the girl from that dream. And when I was learning about the Catholic Worker movement and making inquiries about involving myself in a community, the first to respond went by the name Clare House. When my lay ministry formation class got the assignment to “make friends with a saint,” I didn’t immediately think of Clare – she is perhaps a bit of a wallflower as saints go – but when I did, she became the obvious choice.
The assignment was to choose a saint to learn more about. But it was presented as “making friends” with our chosen saint. More than simply reading old stories about an historical figure long since passed away, it was about remembering that the saints are still with us. They are living and active members of the Church. They are people we can and should get to know in a personal way.
St. Clare and I have a certain affinity in that we both found inspiration for the Christian life in St. Francis of Assisi. And while I was getting to know Francis, Clare was always there. But where Francis has always been the spiritual showman, Clare had a quieter faith. In her life as a cloistered religious, she represents the introverted side of a very extroverted charism. So, we have that too in common.
It is an old and long-standing tradition in the Church to look to the saints for guidance, for encouragement, for prayers in times of need. They’ve been where we are, and they have achieved what we hope for. They are good and valuable companions to have on our spiritual journey, and getting to know them better isn’t too difficult.
Find your saint
For whatever interest, hobby, passion, or profession you have, there is most likely a patron saint. Different saints offer different spiritual styles, different charisms, different ways of approaching holiness. Check out some online resources like a Saint of the Day calendar or an Index of Patron Saints. Or peruse “Butler’s Lives of the Saints.” Get to know who is out there, and see who you connect with.
If your saint has any writings of his or her own, that’s going to be the best way to get to know them. But also read any biographical accounts you can find. Read what those who knew the saint in this life have said. Read what more contemporary admirers have written about them. As with any friendship in its earliest stages, there should be a strong desire to know more about the details of their life. It can be helpful too to follow the practice of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading). Give yourself the time to read, to reflect on what you’ve read, to pray on it, and to contemplate.
Get to know them in prayer
Intercessory prayer — asking others to offer prayers on your behalf — is the most common way Catholics interact with the saints. And the more we have the saints intercede for us, the more we can start to see their personalities come through. A visitor to a Franciscan monastery stopped an old priest to ask him why they had more statues of St. Anthony than they had of St. Francis himself. The old priest explained, “When we pray to St. Anthony he gives us what we ask for. When we pray to St. Francis, he gives us a cross to bear.” In his life on Earth, St. Anthony was known as a prolific and generous miracle worker, whereas St. Francis delighted in sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Their personalities show through in how they respond to prayer requests.
The Communion of Saints gives us a glimpse of the infinite diversity of God’s people – a saint for every inclination, interest, every personality type imaginable. We see representations of humanity – of ourselves – sometimes at our worst, but always ultimately at our best. The saints show us that through the grace of God we can be freed from sin to become our more perfect selves, who God intends us to be. And they want to help us get to where they are. It’s just a matter of getting to know them.