We’ve just entered a beautiful liturgical season, surely not as prominent as Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter, but a special time for the Church nonetheless. I speak of October, the Season of Saints. While the celebration of saints is scattered throughout the year, it seems that this month has a bounty of beautiful feast days that spark devotion and speak to the Catholic imagination in a particular way.
And let’s start by backing up a little bit to September 29th for the celebration of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. St. Gregory the Great, in a homily on this feast day, explained that “they can be called angels only when they deliver some message; those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.” St. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael each played a significant role in the history of salvation. And what Catholic hasn’t heard or said the prayer, “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle . . . ?”
October 1st marks the feast day of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower, one of the most popular of Catholic saints. St. Theresa was a Carmelite Nun who lived in France at the end of the 19th century and is known for her humility and holiness. In her autobiography she wrote: “O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling. My call is love. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love.” St. Theresa responds to petitions sent her way with a sign, a gift of roses. Maybe you’ve received a rose from St. Theresa?
The next day, October 2nd, is the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Many of us remember learning about the Guardian Angels in Catholic school, and we were told always to leave a little room at our desk so that our angel could sit beside us. An endearing image, isn’t it? But Jesus confirms that children have the special protection of the angels when he says, “I say to you, that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Mt 18:10) And another prayer that Catholics know: “Angel of God, my guardian dear . . . .”
October 4 marks the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, who lived and preached a life of evangelical poverty, humility and love in the 12th-13th centuries. In one of his letters, Francis wrote, “Let us have charity and humility. Let us give alms because these cleanse our souls from the stains of sin. Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give.” St. Francis is, of course, the patron saint of animals and the care of the environment, and his ratings have certainly received a boost from the personal devotion of our current Holy Father.
October 7 is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This commemoration was established by St. Pius V in 1572 to celebrate the victory of the Christian fleet over the Moslem Turks in the battle of Lepanto. The victory was attributed to the help of the holy Mother of God. Throughout the centuries the Rosary has been a beautiful and powerful prayer for Catholics – a source of inspiration and assistance. As St. John Paul II wrote, “The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, a prayer simple yet profound, still remains a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness.” How many of our parents and grandparents have found consolation and peace in the daily recitation of the Holy Rosary!
This year marks the 500th birthday of St. Teresa of Avila, Virgin and Doctor of the Church, whose feast day is October 15th. St. Teresa was born in Avila, Spain, joined the Carmelite Order, and was later responsible for reforming and purifying the Order. Many of the faithful have found comfort in these words of St. Teresa: “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change, Patience achieves everything. Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”
October 19 is the Feast Day of the North American Martyrs, St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf and their companions, Jesuits who were tortured and killed by Native Americans in the 17th century. In his spiritual diary, St. John wrote: “Jesus, my Lord and Savior, what can I give you in return for all the favors you have first conferred on me? In truth, I vow to you, Jesus my Savior, that as far as I have the strength, I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom.” The remembrance of the holy martyrs should inspire us all to be bold and courageous in the living out of our faith, even if it means accepting sacrifices and suffering.
And finally we remember with gratitude and love a saint of our own time, St. John Paul II, whose feast day is October 22nd. How blessed we are to live in the same era of this good shepherd, this strong, loving and courageous leader, who changed the history of the Church and the world. Despite the many problems and challenges of our time, he spoke to us insistently of hope. John Paul wrote: “When, on October 22, 1978, I said the words ‘be not afraid’ in St. Peter’s Square, I could not fully know how far they would take me and the entire Church . . . And why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God!”
So many great saints, so many compelling stories come our way in October! It seems appropriate that the Church, during this fall season, should present us such a magnificent harvest of holiness!