Lectio Divina is a Latin term familiar to many on the journey of faith. Translated it simply means divine reading, holy reading, spiritual reading. The methodology consists in the regular reading of Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church or other spiritual reading material. When the person reading comes upon a particular word or phrase that is intriguing, he or she pauses, reflects on the word or phrase, turning it over, so to speak, in his or her mind and heart. The phrase or word often leads the person to events, people or places that evoke or require prayer.
On July 4, Independence Day, the Office of Readings from the Divine Office directed priests and others who pray it to a letter by Pope St. Clement to the Christian Community at Corinth. The letter began with the exhortation, “Cling to the Saints, for those who cling to them will be sanctified.” That opening line prompted me to remember that the theme assigned by our award-winning editor, Connie Berry, for the next issue of The Catholic Sun was Saints and Role Models. I was reminded also, on this Independence Day, of the importance of faith in the life of our community. And then I recalled the people in our own state who have been canonized as saints and the venerable and blessed who are on the path to sainthood.
I remembered with a sense of awe the stories of the North American Martyrs, Jesuit priests and companions who journeyed from France to Canada and sections of New York State to bring the faith to Native Americans. They are remembered in a special way not far from here at Auriesville. They suffered for their faith and died with the affliction of horrible torture. You know them as St. Isaac Joques, St. Jean de Brebeuf, St. John Lalonde and their companions. You may have heard of one of their most notable followers, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the young Native American girl, who saw the truth of their teaching, accepted the faith and lived it despite hardship and heartache.
St. Frances Xavier Cabrini who followed the Italian immigrants and built schools and hospitals to serve them and other immigrants here in New York also came to mind. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a convert from the Episcopalian faith, wife, mother, young widow, foundress of the Sisters of Charity and an outstanding educator was remembered as was St. John Neumann whose 200th birthday is being commemorated this year in the Czech Republic. John Neumann worked as a missionary in Western New York, later joined the Redemptorists and became the Bishop of Philadelphia. He is often called the Father of the Catholic schools in the U.S. I recalled Venerable Pierre Toussant, a Haitian slave, whose kindness was legendary and is now buried in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and Padre Felix Varela, a Cuban intellectual and outstanding priest in New York City. Several years ago he was remembered by the U.S. Postal Service in a commemorative stamp. In Western New York at Lackawanna, they celebrate the legendary Venerable Nelson Baker, founder of Our Lady of Victory Institutions and builder of the National Shrine in her honor. And, of course, we are familiar with Blessed Marianne Cope, born in Germany, raised in Utica, entered the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse where she ministered for some years before leaving to become a missionary in Hawaii where she cared for lepers. We hope that soon she will be declared a saint.
These saintly people responded to the Lord’s call to a life of charity and all of them served God within the State of New York. They were a diverse group of people: rich and poor, lay men and women, priests and sisters, immigrants from afar, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior father and Algonquin mother, a Haitian slave, a Cuban intellectual, a shopkeeper who became a priest and a woman from our own area. Anyone of us could be among them for there is no single mold to this group of people. There was, however, one common element: they were inflamed with the love of Jesus. Their lives became remarkable journeys of hope. They abandoned themselves to God’s will and recognized that their one goal in life was to be happy with God for all eternity. These good people treasured the Catholic faith and tried to share it with others. Is not that what we are all called to do?
And then I thought of Independence Day — a day in which our country celebrates its freedom from British rule. We celebrate that no foreign power should have power over us. Independence Day celebrates an event. But as with other historical events it brings to mind people . . . Paul Revere, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and many others. While this year’s celebration of our freedom led me to consider the event and the people associated with it, it also brought me to a consideration of the sovereignty of God.
We need to remember that we are never “independent” from Him. On the contrary, like the Saints who followed Jesus and were so closely associated with the saving event of His passion and resurrection, we want to be rooted firmly in Him, inflamed with love for Him and for His people.
It is good at this time of year to reflect on God’s law and God’s plan for us. No matter what laws are passed by civil authority, God’s law is always to be followed. God wants us to know, love and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in eternity. It seems to me that the best way to do that is to cling to the Saints, as our heroes and role models. Those who cling to them will be sanctified.