Prior to his religious conversion, St. Francis of Assisi was a liar, thief, and virtual madman known for running naked in the streets. Teresa of Avila healed herself on her deathbed by praying to her patron saint. St. Augustine converted after a terrifying dream in which God beat him black and blue for his pagan beliefs.
These are just some of the colorful and riveting details that can be found in the Encyclopedia of Saints. This single-volume guide includes more than 400 entries that offer detailed biographical accounts of principal saints of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Drawing on extensive research, the book explores their lives and religious journeys, mystical experiences, philosophies, and important influences. Appendixes include information on patron saints by topic, a calendar of feast days, beatified and canonized popes, an explanation of the canonization process, a glossary of terms, and a glossary of heresies.Saints profiled include:Blessed Andre Bessette, Anselm. Barnabas, Catherine of Sweden, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Fabian, Pope Gregory I, Hildegard of Bingen, John of the Cross, Lucy of Syracuse, Mark the Evangelist, Nicodemus, Rose of Lima, Simon Stylites, Thomas Aquinas, William of Norwich, Zita.
|Publisher:||Facts on File, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||8.40(w) x 10.80(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
My long-standing interest in saints made a turning point in 1997 after an unexpected, spontaneous and deeply moving experience.
In the spring of that year, I traveled to Montreal to speak at a conference. Montreal is home to St. Joseph's Oratory, a magnificent structure built on Mount Royal, a small mountain within the city environs. It is a healing shrine, the world's largest pilgrimage center dedicated to St. Joseph. Some two million people of all faiths from all over the world come here every year to pray for the intercession of a remarkable saint, Blessed Brother Andre, whose tomb lies within the oratory. One Sunday, I visited the oratory and joined a large throng of people lined up to pay their respects at the tomb. I came with no particular purpose other than to see the oratory and witness others. I didn't even know much about the life of Brother Andre. Brother Andre was born Alfred Bessette in a village east of Montreal in 1845 to a poor and humble family. He was small and of delicate constitution, and suffered poor health all of his life. In 1870, he sought to enter the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a religious order dedicated to the teaching profession. The order accepted him despite his lack of education, and gave him the lowly job of doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Mount Royal. He took the name Andre in honor of his sponsor, Pastor Andre Provencal.
Brother Andre spent much of his time in prayer. When he was off-duty, he visited the sick. Miraculous cures were attributed to him and he soon became renowned as the "Wonder Man of Mount Royal." People came from afar to see him. He always credited the cures to the intercession of his patron saint, Joseph.
Brother Andre's ability was not greeted with warmth within his own religious community. Some were skeptical and even opposed him. The quiet little man persevered, always within the requirements of authority, and finally realized his great dream to build an oratory in honor of St. Joseph. It began with a tiny chapel on Mount Royal in 1904. Over the years, donations in honor of Brother Andre have enabled expansions. The present basilica is the tallest point in Montreal, and holds 3000 people.
Brother Andre died in 1937 and was beatified in 1987 by Pope John Paul II (r. 1978- ). His death did not end his healing work. As millions of pilgrims attest, his intercession from beyond the grave enables continuing miracles of divine healing.
Brother Andre's heart is on view as a relic, encased in a clear glass container in the oratory. But the real attraction, the real power center, is his small black granite tomb, called the Black Coffin. Pilgrims come to touch the tomb and pray for healing.
So there I was this one Sunday morning, filing into the small alcove that contains the tomb. Outside the alcove, candlelight flickered over the high walls filled with the canes and crutches people had thrown away after miraculous healings there.
The tomb itself was small, plain and unadorned. The simplicity of its surroundings certainly gave no hint that there lay the remains of a miracle healer revered around the world. Someone had placed a single red rose atop the tomb. People waited for a turn to touch the black granite while others crowded around them. At last I maneuvered to the front and placed both palms on top of the tomb.
When I touched the tomb, I felt a burning begin in the center of my chest. It astonished me. The feeling intensified, as though my heart center was on fire. This feeling of fiery heat radiated out to the rest of my body, growing stronger, until I felt as though I were enveloped in invisible flames. I felt strangely unable to move. As I stood riveted to the tomb, it came to me that I was touching the Heart of God, experiencing the burning fire of true unconditional love. It was flowing into me as a heat and fire that literally were burning away imperfections in me. Layer upon layer peeled away. The intensity and brilliance of this radiance were overwhelming.
Suddenly I understood that there is a difference between love and unconditional love. Love heals, nurtures, nourishes and sustains. Unconditional love purifies. This difference is at once subtle and profound; at once infinitesimal and vast. I was being purified in some way by unconditional love.
The burning sensation lasted as long as I held my hands on the tomb. I remained swept up in a rapture equal to that of any saint. I have never felt so much in the presence of God.
Afterwards, the only thing I was capable of doing was walking trance-like into an adjoining chapel, where I wept and prayed, and tried to understand what I had just experienced.
On my last day in Montreal, I returned to the oratory. I was anxious to touch the Black Coffin again. I desired that incredible fire that had taken me into the presence of God. It was a weekday, with few people about, and so this time I had the entire alcove to myself. But when I touched the tomb again there was no burning. Instead I felt a deep and soft inner radiance. It was another extraordinary experience, but of a different sort.
In retrospect, I realized that of course I would not experience the same fire. A mystical experience is unique and not repeated. The expansion of consciousness that comes from it is needed only once.
What was the source of the power there that facilitated such a experience? How can a holy person continue, from the other side of death, as a channel for divine grace? I do not know the answers, only continue to explore the mystery. Was I changed? Yes. Like the experience itself, I was changed in both subtle and profound ways. I did not feel that I had become "holy" or anything of the sort. And though I felt "stuff" burned off of me, I still possess the same flaws and shortcomings. But I have a much different awareness of love now, and of the importance of bringing love to its highest and purest expression, that of unconditional love.
This experience joins the records of countless other transformative experiences had by people the world over when they come into the presence of saints. As I mentioned at the beginning, I had already long been interested in saints as part of my study of mysticism. This experience with Brother Andre propelled me into a deeper study of both.
What exactly is sainthood? The Roman Catholic Church has a formal process of canonization for recognizing the holiest of the holy as saints - saints are not "made" but simply honored for their achievements. The church thoroughly examines a candidate's life and works, and requires validation of at least two posthumous miracles. But fewer than 300 of the 10,000 or so documented saints throughout history have been canonized (Brother Andre has been beatified, a step which precedes canonization). The rest have achieved a saint status by popular acclaim. They are venerated locally. Some, popular once upon a time, have disappeared altogether from current devotion. And some belong more to legend than to history.
A saint's sanctity and purity, as well as writings and acts of charity and sacrifice certainly are important considerations to formal sainthood. But what drives the popular interest and devotion is belief in the power of the saint to bring help and healing to the living. Some saints are important to the Church for their treatises and works on theology and philosophy. The people, however, look for miracles. We the public are drawn to saints because of the mystery around them: their rich inner lives of mystical and visionary experience, and their ability to work wonders and miracles.
In this book, I have included saints who have made important contributions to the Church and to society, especially in education, charity and health care. Among these are towering figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas, who shaped the development of Western philosophy. I have paid special attention to the inner, mystical lives of saints and to their miracles, for here is where we come closest to the Mystery.
I keep Brother Andre's picture at my desk, and carry some of the little medallions of him that the oratory sells, including one that contains a tiny piece of relic. They are links not so much to the man, but to what he and other saints represent: that miracles are made possible by a heart that loves.
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