“I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: “Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty!”
The saints have always played a role in my life. My name, Thomas Anthony, was my father’s name, and he was named after his dad, who was named after his dad, and so forth for multiple generations.
But my personal embrace of the saints began when I chose my confirmation name: Francis. My mom’s chaplain during World War II was a Franciscan friar. My mom had pictures of me as a baby in his arms, wearing his black skull cap. I suppose he was the initial influence behind my hopeful Franciscan vocation. But there were other influences. I read that St. Francis sought direction directly from the scriptures. I thought, if Francis could do that, so can I. If Francis desired to be a missionary, so could I. If Francis could leave his family and his home, so could I. If Francis could embrace poverty, so could I. If Francis could receive the stigmata and become a saint, so could I. (This latter remains a work in progress!)
Then it was time to choose my patron saint. I could have chosen St. Thomas, but he seemed weak to me, because he doubted. I wanted a strong saint who reflected my young and growing faith. Since my name was Thomas Anthony, I thought of Thomas Aquinas. He was bright, an intellectual. I too fancied myself as intellectual and wanted to pursue an academic profession, possibly teaching theology, maybe even ascetical theology. So, St. Thomas Aquinas became my patron saint.
Then, in my early 40s, I read a biography of St. Thomas that moved me to reconsider him as a patron saint. The book pointed out that Thomas was ready to die for Jesus. I reflected that I too was a fellow doubter; I question a lot. Being a strong introvert, I don’t voice my questions, but they’re there. I am more like Thomas than I realized!
Then there is St. Joan of Arc. She trusted her saints to guide her, and she was courageous—not only on the battlefield but also in the trials leading to her death. Being a pacifist, I originally thought people would think me a hypocrite if I acknowledged her, but then I learned that Dorothy Day kept a statue of Joan beside her bed. Now I have a statue of St. Joan in my office.
There are many other saints in my life: Benedict, Claire, Franz Jägerstätter, Edith Stein, and more. And then there are the saints who are not acknowledged on an official church calendar. For example, I consider my mom and my Irish grandmom to be saints. There’s also a monsignor I lived with early in my priesthood whose Masses moved me to yearn for a closer relationship with God.
Each of us has any number of good and holy people in our lives who help us find our paths. They may be people we live with, authors whose books we read, or poets on our street corners. They may be people sitting beside us on the bus, store clerks, janitors at our office, teachers in our school, or our neighbor across the road.
Who are your saints? Who do you turn to? Who helps you find your way?
For more reflections from Father Tom McGann, C.M.F.:
- My favorite sacrament stories, 47 years into the priesthood
- Käthe Kollwitz helps us understand our world’s injustices
- Young Catholics must be willing to make history