I happened to be talking to Julie Davis — who is the primo go-to person when pondering any book, because I do believe she may have read them all! — about what collections of “lives of the saints” we would recommend. I have a few that I like a lot, and they’re all well-known award winners: Father Jim Martin’s My Life with the Saints, Colleen Carroll Campbell’s My Sisters, the Saints and Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints. And I’ve always liked Lisa Hendey’s collection for Catholic Moms.
Julie reminded me of this book, though, and the instant she named it, I thought: “yes, of course, that’s a particularly great one — why have I not looked at it in so long?”
Bert Ghezzi’s Voices of the Saints; A Year of Readings is one of those books every Catholic household really should have. This is a meticulously researched and cross-referenced book of saints for grown-ups. No pictures, no frills – you get the information you are seeking, and a taste of their own writings, but the book is arranged with themes and calendar prompts. If you’re if you’re dealing with issues of, say, obedience, you look under “obedience” (if you’re feeling cranky look under “porcupine saints”) and you’re be referred to a helpful Christian whose one struggles or wisdom will help you out. This book gives you a real sense of the “communion” of saints.
I used to keep the book on our coffee table, where my then-teens would pick it up and peruse. It’s been in the bookshelf for a little while, but after posting on it, I pulled it down and immediately became once-again engrossed in this unique collection of remarkable witnesses. I was surprised to discover that Ghezzi had included Pier Giorgio Frassati among his subjects; you do know I think I “discovered” him, right?
Anyway, given some of the ugly, difficult-to-absorb headlines, of late, and my own very recent and gratifying real-time experience of the Communion of Saints, it seems to me this summer might be a very good time to add a book like this to one’s collection, and to really spend some time perusing it. Saint Philip Neri always counseled that people read the lives of the saints for instruction and inspiration, and I think he was on to something. In any case, a daily visit with a spiritual ancestor might yet help to bring insight, compassion and clarity to our times, which are as broken as they ever were.Here are some samples of their voices:
The Father takes pleasure in looking upon the heart of the most holy Virgin Mary, as the masterpiece of his hands…The Son takes pleasure in it as the heart of his Mother, the source from which he drew the blood that has ransomed us.
— St. John Vianney (1786-1859)
Once Macarius directed a young seeker to go to a cemetery and upbraid the dead. Then to go and flatter them. “What answer did they dead give you?” he asked. “None at all,” said the youth. “Then go and learn never to let abuse or flattery move you. If you die to the world and yourself, you will begin to live for Christ.”
— St. Macarius the Great (300?-390)
On the accessibility of faith:
Christ is more easily possessed than a bit of thread or straw. A single wish, a sigh, is sufficient.
— St. Mechtild of Helfta (1241?-1298)
During painful times, when you feel a terrible void, think how God is enlarging the capacity of your soul so that it can receive him – making it, as it were, infinite as he is infinite. Look upon each pain as a love token coming to you directly from God in order to unite you to him.
— Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906)
Judas was in the company of the disciples and the robber was in the company of killers, yet what a turnabout there was when the decisive moment arrived!
— St. John Climacus (579?-649)
We have nothing of our own but our will. It is the only thing that God has so placed in our own power that we can make an offering of it to him.
— St. John Vianney (1786-1859)
On Worldly Illusions:
The great truth that God is all, and the rest nothing, becomes the life of the soul, and upon it one can lean securely amide the incomprehensible mysteries of this world.
— Bl. Mary Teresa de Soubiran (1835-1889)
Sometimes listening to people becomes monotonous and extremely boring, till one is nearly collapsing; but in such cases it helps to remember that even when Jesus was about to fall the third time, he patiently consoled the women-folk and children of his persecutors, making no exceptions. How can we ever be as grateful as we ought for such a vocation?
— Ven. Solanus Casey (1870-1957)
Good stuff, right? The more I look it over, the more I think I need to put this book back on the coffee table, for the family to pick up and look at. And maybe I need the kindle version for when I travel.