Saints of World Youth Day 2011

Happy Feast Day, St Ignatius (July 31st)! Saints of WYD 2011

That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtingly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same.”~ St. Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius of Loyola is the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and author of the “Spiritual Exercises“. He was born in Spain to a noble family, and was raised and trained to be a Knight.  After being seriously wounded in battle, he experienced a conversion during his convalescence.  Ignatius was inspired to forego his military career and devote himself entirely to God.  Not long after the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus appeared to him.  He began fervently praying, around 7 hours everyday, and often in a nearby cave.  It was during this time that Ignatius began to write the “Spiritual Exercises”, which continue to guide and lead people in prayer even six centuries later.  Ignatius later went on to receive an education in theology, but it is his spirituality that he is known for and is the reason he continues to inspire and lead people closer to Christ.  Ignatius was faithfully obedient to the authority of the Church and spoke often of the respect and obedience she deserved. May we experience that same fervor and devotion that Ignatius possessed for Christ and His Church.


Saints of WYD 2011: St. Teresa of Avila

Kathryn Diener


“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid.  All things pass away.  God never changes.  Patience obtains everything.  God alone is enough.”

“Lord, save me from gloomy saints.”

I really love Teresa of Avila.  She is one of my all time favorites, not only because her life and writings are so inspiring, but also because I almost feel like I am talking to one of my favorite friends.  She’s wise, witty, and everything she writes about seems so relatable, even though its been some 400+ years since her death.  And oh, did I mention that Teresa was also one spunky, vivacious, beautiful, charming, and popular girl?  Not words one usually associates when one thinks of a nun who is a Saint!  And actually, the whole reason she entered the convent was because her Dad wanted to “straighten” her out.  I kid you not.  I guess all of Teresa’s flirting and dalliances with young men in her town had given her Dad cause for alarm.  Teresa was a girl who liked to be liked.  And given her good looks and great personality she got a whole lot of positive response and enjoyed it.  But, her Dad’s “punishment” kind of backfired on all involved.  Teresa enjoyed her time at the Convent and experienced something deeper and more fulfilling than in her world of parties and socials.  Unknowingly, she had gone straight to the source of Love, and found the ultimate lover of her soul in Christ.  She ended up making her vows to Christ as a Carmelite nun, eventually becoming the Mother Superior and reforming the whole order.  Far from being perfect, Teresa struggled with many sins and the always present desire to woo people with her charm.  She learned humility, the power of prayer, perseverance, and a heck of a lot of wisdom along the way.  If you get the chance check out her book “The Interior Castle” where she divulges some Saintly wisdom and shares the beauty and richness of her love for Christ.

Saints of WYD 2011: Blessed John Paul II

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 
“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us.”
Kathryn Diener
Ok, so John Paul II is not officially a saint yet, but he was just beatified this year by Pope Benedict XVI. The “Blessed” person for today means more to me and my family than I think words could adequately convey.  When I look at the images of Pope John Paul II when he was just a little boy I peer deeply into his face and  wonder if he, or anyone else sensed the great plans God had for him.  No matter what ones faith, no one can deny his wisdom John Paul II the early yearsor the fact that he was truly a man who spoke truth to our day and age, addressing such a myriad of issues as marriage, abortion, homosexuality, the elderly, contraception, and the meaning of suffering.  And yet Pope John Paul II was not just offering intellectual responses to these issues of our day.  He deeply desired to know what God intended for the human person… what did it mean to be truly made in the image and likeness of God?  What does that mean as a person, as a man, as a woman, as a child, as a priest, as a laborer… and so on.  And the answer he found was that we are made to love as our Creator loves– to give and receive love in a way that is attentive to the truth and dignity of the human person.  Simply put, we are called to be gift, just as we ourselves are gift– made in total love by the Father.  If this piques your interest, check out his beautiful and brilliant book “Theology of the Body“– a compilation of his addresses on these issues.
JPII”s deep understanding of suffering came from his own personal life and being in the unique position of watching his beloved Poland and family and friends face the ravages of WWII.   He lost his mother and brother early in his life, and later his father.  He witnessed the cruelty of World War II first hand, playing a part in Poland’s fierce resistance both as a layperson and as a priest.  Even his studies for the priesthood had to be done in secret for fear of arrest and death.  And somehow, through all the suffering that JPII experienced, he also developed an intense love for God and saw beauty in all its splendor – be it in creation, the love between a man and a woman, the love of a parent for their child, and in poetry, music, art, philosophy, and literature.   He loved to kayak, mountain climb, and as a Priest and Bishop used to take youth and married couples on spiritual retreats up in the mountains.  And when Parkinson’s Disease started to rob him of his life, Pope John Paul II visibly suffered on the world stage, putting a face, hope, and meaning to human suffering.  Pope John Paul II truly gave the world the gift of Himself, just as he taught us to do in his life and writings.
But, I think I can speak about this great man best when I talk about what he means to me and my family.  This is an essay I wrote for the NC Catholic Magazine just a few months ago, in celebration of the Beautification of John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II revealed to me the beauty of marriage, the beauty of my vocation 
as wife and mother and most importantly, helped reveal to me what it means to be 
human.   When I was 21, I felt a calling to grow deeper in my faith.  My search led me to 
the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Washington DC.  
There I spent 2 years plumbing the depths of our Fathers love by reading and studying 
not only Pope John Paul II’s writings and teachings, but also the 2000 plus years of 
collective wisdom that is our faith. It was as if my soul had struck gold.  In a world where 
the dignity and sacredness of human life is met with opposition at every turn, JPII emphatically
fought for an understanding of the human person as made in the image 
and likeness of God– made in Love and called to Love as revealed in the person of 
Jesus Christ.  Thus, a tremendous amount of JPII’s teachings and writings focused on 
the sacredness of the human person, marriage, and family.  Here I discovered what 
John Paul II called the “feminine genius”– or my special calling as a woman made in the 
image of God.  Here I discovered the sublime role and importance of the family in our 
church and world and the tremendous calling we have as parents.  Here I discovered 
why it was of utmost importance that we as Catholics  work to defend  life in all it’s 
stages– from conception to natural death.  I learned about the gift of our sexuality and 
how in marriage our sexuality is a beautiful way of imaging the creativity and love 
present in the Holy Trinity.  I learned why in marriage, our vocation is to “choose life” by 
being open to children and to be the primary educators of our children, raising up little 
saints.  And here, at the John Paul II Institute, I began a deep and holy friendship with 
the man I would one day marry.  Our second son, Charlie, is named after Karol (Polish 
for Charles) Wojtyla, the humble polish priest who is now on the way to becoming one 
of the greatest saints in our church.  Our family has a special relation with JPII and we 
call on him often to intercede on our behalf.  We feel the graces every day.  

Saints of WYD 2011: St. Rose of Lima

Did you know that St. Rose of Lima was not a nun, rather she was a lay tertiary?  This means that she lived out vows similar to a nun but lived a lay life outside the convent.    She spent most of her life at her family home and she worked hard to help support the family. Unlike most of the other saints for World Youth Day this year, St. Rose is not from Spain.  In fact, she was born in Lima, Peru and she is the patron saint of the Americas!

“Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.”

                                                                                                                           ~St. Rose of Lima

St. Rose, by her life and suffering, showed us that we must embrace suffering as part of Christ’s redemptive plan for our lives.  St. Rose of Lima is also the patron saint of people persecuted for their piety.

St. Rose is a young saint, dying at the age of 31.

Saints of WYD 2011: St. John of Avila

“Turn yourself round like a piece of clay and say to the Lord: I am clay, and you, Lord, the potter. Make of me what you will.”    ~St. John of Avila

So, two of my favorite saints are St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Those saints managed to live a life so enraptured with our Lord it rivals the greatest of love stories. St. John of the Cross wrote buckets of poetry exquisitely capturing God’s great love for Him and his love in return. And St. Teresa of Avila was one spunky, beautiful girl who daringly refused all of her many suitors and went straight to the author of romance: she married Christ and became a nun– and she still had men knocking down her doors. I kid you not. Her Mother Superior had to remove her from her cloistered counseling cell where men would come just to hear her voice and receive her sage advice. Teresa was so charming and wise men managed to fall in love with her just by hearing her voice.

And so, I just learned that the hermit on the hill who was the spiritual advisor to both of  these  amazing saints was none other than St. John of Avila. He started out studying law and then became a hermit… gee, I can’t imagine why. Sounds like something a lot of lawyers would appreciate today! He was known for his hugely popular and fiery sermons and the beautiful and meditative way in which he celebrated Mass. He also helped develop the theology of the priesthood. A brief imprisonment during the Inquisition even made him even more popular. St. John of Avila claimed he learned more through his year of suffering in prison than in all his previous studies. He was only recently canonized in 1970. I think people probably figured that anyone who could inspire St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila (Two Doctors of the Church) must be pretty special himself. In fact, it is said that Pope Benedict may soon declare St. John of Avila the 34th Doctor of the Church. Stay tuned to the Vatican for more info!

Saints of WYD 2011: St. Isidore the Worker

I’ve already talked a bit about St. Isidore the Worker, as he was married to St. Mary of the Head. However, here is another cool fact about St. Isidore. He worked as a farmer, and he would begin everyday by first attending Mass.

My mom attends Mass daily and I remember once asking her what she did when she got busy. Her response was that God multiplied her time if she began it with Him. St. Isidore seems to have experienced something similar. He would often accomplish the work of 3 men, and once his Master saw another plow pulling along beside Isidore, but upon closer inspection, it was only Isidore. It was said that the angels themselves assisted Isidore in his labors. Isidore found dignity and sanctity by uniting and giving his labors to Christ, something we can all do at any stage in our lives. He and his wife, Mary, are the patron Saints of Madrid.

St. Isadore is also known in Madrid for a fascinating miracle. you can read more on this HERE

Saints of WYD 2011: St. Mary (or Maria) of the Head!

Kathryn Diener

Yeah, a married Saint! Who was also married to a Saint (St. Isidore)… Talk about intimidating and inspiring! St. Mary and St. Isidore help us understand the sanctity and beauty of the vocation of marriage. They illustrate the concept of “The Domestic Church“– that the home is the smallest form of Church and a true path to holiness. Its easy to see the vocation to the consecrated life (priests, monks, and nuns) as a higher calling. But Holy Mother Church, in Her wisdom, has given us plenty of married saints to help illustrate that both vocations– consecrated and marriage– are paths to holiness. They just each take different forms.

St. Mary and St. Isidore had one son– Illan. You may have heard the story of Illan falling into a well at a young age. The prayers of Mary and Isidore are said to have made the waters of the well rise and bring their son back into their arms. St. Mary did not have an easy life. Being a wife and mother during the Middle Ages was no easy task. There were rigorous chores and many hardships– be they illness or farming for one’s very livelyhood. And the threat of poverty and death was never far away.

But, St. Mary confronted these challenges with strength, hard work, holiness, grace, and love. She and St. Isidore experienced a blessed and loving marriage, and had a deep devotion to the Eucharist and Our Blessed Mother. The Holy Family was their model, and they achieved sanctity in and through their relationships– with each other, and with Christ.

Saints of WYD 2011: St. Francis Xavier

“Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. I wish the University students would work as hard at converting these people as they do at their books…this thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: “Lord I am here! What do you want me to do?”

Lesson learned: Don’t let your studies take priority over your spiritual life. Prioritize God, and everything else will fall into place. St. Francis Xavier lived in the 16th century and was a giant of a missionary– evangelizing in places from Asia and Africa, to the East Indies and Italy. His moment of conversion took place when he was a student at the University of Paris studying under St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Ignatius spoke these words to Francis from the Gospel and changed his life forever: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Mark 8:26) Ponder away.

Saints of WYD 2011: St. Rafael Arnaiz “World Youth Day’s Youngest Saint”

Kathryn Diener

St. Rafael Arnaiz was only recently canonized in 2009 by Pope Benedict. St. Rafael was a Trappist Monk and died young, at the age of 27. After reading several accounts of his life, one realizes how truly modern and relatable of a saint he is. St. Rafael struggled with diabetes and spent much of his youth sick. And yet, one does not get the sense that his sickness dragged him down. He faced each bout of hospitalization and bed rest with humor and an unfailing faith in God’s presence and love. In his words: “All things proceed from the love of God.” Before dying, his last words were: “Take me, and give Yourself to the world.”

St. Rafael teaches us that a life of sanctity does not consist in perfectionism. A life of sanctity is surrendering one’s will and weaknesses, and uniting oneself with the Father in love as best as one can– often in the midst of persecution and suffering. It is embracing one’s cross, not merely accepting it. It is continually getting up, no matter how much one falls. St. Rafael truly understood this… physically struggling to make it through the little tasks each day while those around him, even in the monastery, seemed to accomplish great things. Here is a passage from St. Rafael’s personal writings that reveal more:

“There once was a clown that fell every time he entered the ring…, he went to and fro, dragging his enormous shoes, and only after a great effort managed to sort everything out with the floor. Just when he thought everything was in order, he would trip over it.. the mat would crumple up again, and he would fall to the ground sweating.
I know a Trappist in the monastery who is the same as this clown. Everything he does comes down to “making do”– just dragging his feet and drying up his sweat. This poor man gives the angels, watching the spectacle of the world from heaven, something to laugh at. Although he isn’t doing risky work like the rest of the performers, neither deadly jumps nor flips on the trapeze… who cares? If he doesn’t know anything else, let him unfold the mats and with that, win the applause of the angels!”

Its in the little things, people. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta spoke of this as well… doing little thing with great love.

Saints of WYD 2011: St. John of the Cross

Kathryn Diener

“When there is no love, pour love in and you will draw love out.”

“O you souls who wish to go on with so much safety and consolation, if you knew how pleasing to God is suffering, and how much it helps in acquiring other good things, you would never seek consolation in anything; but you would rather look upon it as a great happiness to bear the Cross of the Lord.”

With what procrastinations do you wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart?”

“Well and good if all things change, O Lord God, provided I am rooted in You.”

The list of amazing quotes from St. John of the Cross could go on and on. St. John of the Cross is a giant of a saint, and also one of the most diminutive ones. Standing at a little under 5ft, he helped found and reform the male branch of the Carmelites and was a spiritual director of St. Teresa of Avila. He is also considered one of the master’s of mystical theology. Much of our modern understanding of prayer and spirituality was influenced by St. John. He lived out his life seeking and meditating upon God’s great love, writing about it, and guiding many souls into a deeper relationship with Christ. And, St. John got suffering. I mean, he really understood it in a mystical sense that only comes with great wisdom and nearness to God. The phrase “dark night of the soul” comes from St. John of the Cross’s period of intense suffering and the lack of feeling and emotion towards God’s presence… to say this more clearly, He lived out Jesus’s cry from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” Now, God did not abandon Jesus, but in Jesus’ deepest moment of suffering He truly did not FEEL God’s presence. Remember, simply because one does not FEEL God’s presence, does not mean that God isn’t present. John understood that as one strives for unity with Christ, often God will remove the wonderful feeling of His presence so as to be strengthened and fortified… to believe without feeling so to speak. And John saw this as a blessing, for in it He learned to rely more deeply on Christ for everything, and was willing to sacrifice everything out of love for Christ. That is how deeply in love John was with Christ, and he knew God’s love for him was even deeper. John truly saw God as the great lover of His soul.