“do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10
The new year is upon us and the unknown awaits us. With each new year, I , along with many others, set goals along with making plans for the upcoming year with hope and even a bit of trepidation.But, we don’t have to travel alone or in fear.We have the communion of saints watching over us and interceding for us, we have our Mother Mary and most importantly we have our Lord, Jesus Christ with us.
Even with all of the intercessions, guidance and protection we are still prone to challenges, distractions,disappointments and fear. Many times , including his first speech to the Masses after being chosen for the Seat of Peter, His Holiness St. Pope John Paul II exhorted all of us to “Be Not Afraid”.
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch…. I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” ~ Pope St. John Paul II
Back on December 23rd, while preparing for Christmas and all that was planned I began writing this article on choosing a saint and focusing on what was really important. I wrote:
“It is brutally cold outside. As I sit here and write this, the current temperature outside is 25F with a ‘feels like” temp of 15F. And while this anomalous event bears down on SouthEast Texas, I gratefully sit in my den enjoying my fireplace and Christmas tree, grateful that I have power, food, water and not experiencing the catastrophe that we went through in February of 2021. I’m grateful that my family is safe and so are the kitties that I look out for in our neighborhood.
Besides checking on family, friends and kitties I have been preparing myself for Christmas.Last minute gifts being either bought or made and presents being wrapped. Dinner plans with family for Christmas day being finalized.But along with the last minute push to finish things, I have taken advantage of this arctic blast to just be. To enjoy the small things about Christmas that I enjoy ( such as the tree and fireplace) and to cherish time with family.
Prayer, especially for others, has also helped make this Advent and Christmas a more meaningful season. As I mentioned in my last blog post,I have been taking time to rest, focusing on the simple and more important things, especially the reason for this season.
Opportunities to seek the face of Jesus and pray for others and seek the intercession of Our Mother and the saints have been abundant.Prayers not only for our community during this weather event and those at greater risk, but for all in need.
Sadly, while we get caught up in the “Christmas Spirit” and many times become mesmerized by the twinkling lights and shiny ribbons and bows, we forget that this can also be a difficult time for many.There are those alone. There are those seeking shelter, warmth and food during this dangerous weather. There are those who are hurting. There are those grieving.There are those without the love of Christ.”
I didn’t get a chance to finish the article as plans went awry, but in the long run these events brought greater meaning to Advent and Christmas, my quest for a saint and guidepost and my preparation to walk into the New Year boldly, serving as Jesus directed me.
Christmas Eve, I was to attend the early evening Mass and serve as a Sacristan in training followed by our traditional family Christmas Eve dinner at Denny’s. But, on the way to church we started having car problems with the car stalling out just as we made it to church. We ended up leaving and not making it to Mass as we wanted to get the car back home before it got dark. Shortly after arriving home, my wife became ill so my daughter and I went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant next door to us.All was well and my daughter and I made plans to attend an early Christmas morning mass.
Granted, we were still experiencing the arctic blast and frigid temperatures at this time which led to our next adventure early Christmas morning.
A little before 7 am , we were woken up early with a phone call from my parents that the freeze had broken a pipe in their house and one of their bedrooms was flooding.We rushed over there and thanks to the help of a brother Knight who arrived before we did, we were able to shut off the water and begin the clean up process. Something that we’re still contending with.
The New Year brought a round of us taking turns being ill and word that my mother in law had fallen, fracturing her femur in multiple places requiring surgery to repair. She’s still in the hospital,facing several health issues but covered in prayer. At the writing of this, my wife is preparing to fly back to Ohio to be with her mother.
It was in the midst of all of this that I began focusing more on where Jesus was leading me and what he wanted me to focus on.” What is being asked of me and where am I being led?”. I continued to ask myself.With all that I experienced over the past year and especially these past weeks, while a bit distracted, I felt that it was even more important to share my journey on choosing a Saint to walk and grow with and a word to be a guide post for the upcoming year.
Last January, I wrote about walking with and choosing a Saint for the New Year. While you can read the article by following this link, here’s a short snippet from that article to “set the stage” and open the discussion
“In the early part of my journey, one of things I had to gain an understanding of is the concept of praying to the saints and Mother Mary for their intercessions. I must admit that for me this was not a stumbling block as it appears to be for many non-Catholics. This concept when shared with others has brought me many less than polite comments and messages from those who do not understand.
While the word pray can be used to define worship, it also has other definitions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word pray also means to entreat, implore, request, plea. To make a request in a humble manner.
In short, we’re not worshiping Mary and the saints, but asking them to pray for us.
In regards to the saints and whether or not they can hear us or intercede for us, two things immediately come to mind. First from the Book of Hebrews:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” ~ Hebrews 12:1-2, (NABRE)
And, in the Apostolic Creed, we profess belief in the “communion of saints”.”
Developing a relationship with a saint doesn’t take away from our relationship with Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To the contrary, it deepens and enhances it as the Saints along with Our Mother consistently point toward Jesus. Not only setting an example of being heroes of the faith, they’re mighty prayer warriors who, having fought the good fight, kept their faith and finished the race,are ready to intercede on our behalf. Just as we pray here for one another, so do the communion of saints pray for us.
The tradition of choosing a Saint for the new year began for me shortly after being received into the Church on Christ the King Day in 2020.Up to that point in time, my focus had been discerning a confirmation saint.In choosing a saint for confirmation. My sponsor along with some others whose guidance and insight I greatly respected encouraged me to spend time in prayer and to be open because many times we don’t “choose” a saint, they “choose” us.This was the case for me in selecting my confirmation saint.
While conducting my prayerful search, I had considered and prayed about several before finally picking St. Padre Pio.
Days after my confirmation, my parish’s Director of Evangelization and Catechesis and dear friend of our family began encouraging others to choose a Saint and word for the coming year. I was fascinated. After some time in prayer and thoughtful consideration, I chose St. John Paul II as my Saint and for my word I chose “Courage” based upon his “Be Not Afraid” speech for 2021.
Like I did with my confirmation Saint and Saint for 2021, I chose my Saint and word for 2022 after time in prayer in reflection. In reality, it felt more as if they chose me and drew me to them rather than the other way around. For 2022, I had been led to St. Maximilian Kolbe and the word “Sacrifice”. Little did I know at the time, but that combination was exactly what I was going to need throughout 2022 with its challenges and blessings.
In my opinion, developing relationships with new saints in addition to showing me living examples of heroes of the faith and lessons in growing closer to the Lord,it stretches my faith and life, forcing me to learn and grow in new and unexpected directions. It forms a personal coterie of saints , an inner spiritual circle I can learn from that are pointing to and praising Jesus without ceasing.
Some advice I received in choosing both my confirmation saint and the saint for the new year was to trust in the Holy Spirit and keep my mind and heart open to unexpected possibilities. Along with spending time in prayer, I should search myself and question where I was in my life and where I was hoping to go in my walk with the Lord.
To some extent, I used a method outlined by Andrea , owner of “Sparkle with Grace “(@sparkelwithgrace on Instagram) in discerning my word for the year and for the selection of my saint for the new year.. Andrea, a busy Catholic business owner and mom, specializes in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses streamline organization and goal setting, especially the busy moms juggling home life, children and running a business. In a seminar she held on goal setting, she talked about choosing a word for the upcoming year as a focal point.Andrea gave the following tips on finding a word for the year:
• Ask yourself what you need in your life right now
• Think about the traits or qualities that are important to you
• Make a list of words that resonate with you
• Pay attention to words or themes appearing in your life
• See if your goals for the year share a common theme
• Don’t overthink it , let the word come to you
While selecting my saint to walk with and words to guide me through both 2021 and 2022 was a fruitful experience, it didn’t have the twists, turns and surprises that this year’s challenge brought me.
All Hallow’s Eve of 2022 presented the opportunity to not only learn about various saints and relics, but to experience over 150 relics of the Church through Father Carlos Martins’ “Treasures of the Church” exhibit that came to my parish. Father Martins brought to life not only the relics of the saints and their importance, but also the story of a young saint named Maria Goretti.
I had first heard of St. Maria Goretti, ironically, when I was researching last year’s article on choosing a saint.
I was trying out a random saint generator one Catholic blogger suggested in her post about setting goals for the New Year and choosing a word and possibly a saint to help guide you towards your goals for the upcoming year.Via the random saint generator, Maria Goretti was the one chosen for me.
By that time, I had already been led ( or chosen ) by St. Kolbe , so I read a little about her and filed her name away for future reference. But once I heard Father Martins tell the tragic story of this young saint and her forgiveness and intercessions of others, I was deeply affected.After his presentation, Father Martins invited all of the attendees to adjourn to our parish life center where we would have the chance to experience all of the relics he brought. Prior to dismissing us, he encouraged us to say a “prayer to the saint unknown to us” who was seeking a friendship with us and to be open to the possibilities.I still have difficulty expressing all that I experienced in the presence of the relics.I can say that my primary rosary is now a relic of many saints and my St. Maximilian Kolbe rosary is a relic of the Polish Saints , St. Kolbe, St. John Paul II and St. Faustina.
Over the next few weeks, St. Maria began popping up at various times in my life and her message and patronage of forgiveness and mercy began to resound within me and call to me.
The call to forgive and to show mercy to others and myself grew persistently stronger.
It became abundantly clear to me that St. Maria would be my saint for 2023 and “Forgiveness and Mercy” would be my guideposts.
Normally, this would be the end of this story. A seed was planted, over the next several months it grew and I was brought to a point where it all came together and my saint and word was chosen for me. A sweet, simple happy ending.But growth ( and callings ) are rarely sweet and simple.
By Christmas time when I was beginning work on this article, I was tired. I was drained not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.Granted, I was grateful and despite some trepidation, I was optimistic about the coming year.
I had detailed some of the challenges and growth in my last two articles, one of which I posted just a few days before I began work on this one (The Three Wise Men and Their Wise Bear). And it was while writing the early attempt that I posted at the beginning of this story that I was evaluating and re-evaluating my direction.
It was during those quiet moments at night, hiding from the frigid temperatures outside and enjoying my tree and a pleasant fire in the fireplace that I kept coming back to the word “simplicity”.
I read and reread what I had written while examining my conscience and goals for the new year. WIth a starting point of my newly selected guideposts of “Forgiveness and mercy” I pondered some wounds I was nursing. I had lost trust in some and was hurt. I was questioning who I could trust, my motives, my serving and at times even my faith.
I even found myself feeling as if “maybe, I wasn’t doing enough. Maybe I should be doing even more”.
It was then, in the middle of the night, relaxing alone by the fireplace that it hit me. I didn’t need to be more, but less. Not do less, but be less.Become smaller.To become more childlike, not childish.Regardless of my desires, my fears and even my hurts, I should cheerfully offer myself and my fears, discomforts and sufferings to the Lord.
And I readily knew of a saint whom I admired and was drawn to that wrote about exactly that. A saint I already sought and longed to know better. One who wrote about the joys of serving in the small things with her “Little Way”.
In her Autobiography, “Story of a Soul”, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote of the “Little Way” in which she sought to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.It was in the small, simple things done in love that drew her closer to Our Lord.Her only hope being Jesus.
“I’m not relying on my own merits, as I have none, but I put my hope in Him who is goodness and holiness Himself.” ~ St. Threse , “Story of a Soul”
Yes, I was drawn to St. Therese of Lisieux. I had found that “saint unknown “ who wanted a friendship and a new word and guidepost…”Simplicity”
I began my Advent journey convinced I had found my words and saint and was focused on getting on with Christmas, only to have an epiphany of my own, realizing that there was another reaching out to me.
So, what was I to do? Two different saints calling to me and two different guideposts for me to follow.
I chose both.Or, should I say, they chose me.
I don’t know what this year holds for me, but the focus on “Forgiveness and Mercy” and on “Simplicity” and with the intercession and friendship of two amazing saints, I do believe that it will be an interesting year.
But, what do I know … I’m just a simple rosary maker.
St. Maria Goretti , Ora Pro Nobis
St. Therese of Lisieux , Ora Pro Nobis