Saintly moms who get it

“Oh well, that’s the day so far, and it’s still only noon. If this continues I will be dead by this evening! You see, at the moment, life seems so heavy for me to bear, and I don’t have the courage because everything looks black to me.”

That’s a quote from a mom in the trenches. She was fed up with the grind of trying to keep her kids healthy, her business running and her faith alive. But if it makes you feel any better, that mother is St. Zélie Martin. She gives hope to overburdened moms everywhere.

Moms, we at the Denver Catholic want to say that we love and appreciate you. Even more importantly, the saints and angels love you more than you can possibly imagine. They are rooting for you every day. Here’s four that I think you might want to befriend:

 

St. Darerca

Died: 5th century, Ireland

Feast day: March 22

St. Darerca (pronounced dahr-erka) was St. Patrick’s sister, but that’s not what she’s famous for. She’s known for being the mother of all saints, and I mean that almost literally. She had between 17 and 22 kids, and almost all of them are saints.

Whether you have two under two, five under five, or 16 under 16, St. Darerca has been there. She also suffered the loss of her first spouse, Restitus the Lombard, and remarried a man named Chonas the Briton, because she could not handle weak-named men. That means she was, at one point, a single mom with about a dozen children. Remember her next time you have bedtime duty alone.

Her kids are part of the reason Ireland became a Catholic country. Most, if not all, of her sons became bishops, and both of her daughters became saints. They all helped their uncle Patrick bring the news of Jesus to their island. Their faith must have started with St. Darerca, the prototype for hardcore Irish mothers everywhere.

Bonus: She’s really fun to pray to, because saying her name has all the catharsis of swearing. But you’re praying, so it’s okay!

Sorry, there’s no picture of her. Presumably raising 20+ kids makes it difficult to sit for a portrait.

 

St. Ludmila

Died: 921, Czech Republic

Feast day: Sept. 18

Josef_Mathauser_-_kněžna_Drahomíra,_kníže_Václav_a_Ludmila

Ludmila and Drahomira with young Wenceslaus, 19th century painting. Image from wikicommons.

Saint Ludmila was a convert to Christianity. She used to offer sacrifices to a pagan weather goddess, Baba, but stopped when she saw a Christian hermit destroy Baba’s statue. When he wasn’t struck by lightning, Ludmila realize he must be the real deal and became his disciple. One day a Bohemian duke was hunting in the forest where she was being discipled and fell in love with her at first sight, just like Prince Philip and Sleeping Beauty (but with less witchcraft and humanoid crows). She made him convert to Christianity before St. Methodius married them, and they both lived lives of constant conversion (sometimes forcing their peasants to do the same, but let’s not dwell on that).

They had six children together, and took care to raise them with Christian values. Their son Ratislav, however, married a woman named Drahomira. You can probably tell from her name that Drahomira is the villain in this story. Ratislav and the duke died, and Drahomira’s son, St. Ludmila’s grandson, became the heir to the throne. His name was Wenceslaus. His grandmother, St. Ludmila, raised him as a Christian. He eventually became St. Wenceslaus, and is the subject of the song “Good King Wenceslaus”. All of this happened, however, despite his mother.

Drahomira reverted to worshiping Baba and the other idols before her Christian husband was cold in his grave. She loathed her mother-in-law in a way that is normally reserved for sitcoms. She was particularly angry that Ludmila continued to spread Christianity throughout the land. Drahomira convinced many of the Bohemian nobility to support her. She eventually realized that St. Ludmila was as virtuous a grandmother as she was a mother, and that Wenceslaus would never let her spread paganism. So, Drahomira hired two nobles to strangle St. Ludmila with her own veil. Later, she convinced her other son to murder Wenceslaus.

So, while the ending is grim, I think it’s important to remember that virtually no one remembers the names “Drahomira” or “Baba” anymore. We do, however, remember the good king who was raised by his holy grandmother, as well as the God they served.

 

Blessed Anna Maria Taigi

Died: 1837, Italy

Feast day: June 9

Anne-Marie_Taigi_(Basilique_Saint-Chrysogone)

Blessed Anna Maria Taigi’s bones are underneath this “representative figure” inside the Basilica of San Chrysogono. Her body was incorrupt for 21 years after her death. Photo uploaded to wikicommons by Waerfelu.

Blessed Anna had a rough childhood. Her father lost his job when she was six, so the family had to move to Rome, into the same area as St. Benedict Labre. Anna Maria was one of the children who, upon hearing of St. Benedict Labre’s death, ran through the street shouting, “The saint is dead! The saint is dead!” Her mother prepared his body for burial.

Anna Maria contracted smallpox as a child and bore the scars for years (so feel free to pray to her about any acne scars–she gets it).

In 1787 Anna Maria joined her parents as a servant in the Maccarani palace, where she matured into a beautiful young woman. She rushed headfirst into vanity for a few years, then realized she would need a chaste marriage if she wanted to be holy.

She fell in love with a servant from another palace. Domenico was not really a Prince Charming, as he had an explosive temper. However, he really loved his wife. If he heard that another woman had spoken ill of Anna Maria, he would have that woman’s husband beat her or have her arrested. This wasn’t a great time to be female, but his heart was in the right place (ish).

Meanwhile, Anna Maria learned that marriage was exactly what she had needed to grow in holiness and virtue. Shortly after the birth of her first baby, God gave her a beautiful grace: For the rest of her life, she saw a miniature sun somewhat above and before her. Anna Maria had visions within this sun, including the ability to see the state of grace of recently departed and scenes from the life of Christ. She was also blessed with ecstasies, the gift of healing, and the ability to predict the future and read hearts. Sometimes she would levitate. Again, all this began while she was still a new bride and mother.

She didn’t abandon her family to experience these gifts, though. She was a dedicated housewife. raised her three surviving children to be virtuous, insisting on a life of regular prayer. As any mother knows, children will do what they want, though, and one of her sons spent time in jail. Another married an awful woman and moved back to Anna Maria’s crowded apartment, spending years making financially imprudent decisions.

During this time, she was still living with her husband’s explosive anger. Her parents were bitter people, and would often provoke Domenico.

Not everyone disrespected her, though. Anna Maria was frequently consulted by Popes, Napoleon’s mother, and St. Vincent Pallotti, St. Gaspar del Bufalo and St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, because there weren’t enough saints in her life already. Despite his temper, Domenico and her children remembered her gentle attitude and joy.

Anna Maria and Domenico were married for 48 years. When she was 69 years old, Anna Maria took to bed and began seven months of intense physical suffering. Finally, she had a vision of Our Lord, delivered a message to each of her children, thanked her husband for taking care of her and died. She was later designated as a special protectress of mothers.

 

Zélie Martin

Died: 1877, France

Feast day: July 12

Zélie_Martin_1

St. Zélie Martin, long before tons of Catholic mothers began to name their daughters after her. Photo from wikicommons.

I can’t write about saintly moms and not include Zélie. I mean, I should probably include Our Lady and St. Monica, too, but I really can’t leave out Zélie. She’s the first saint to be canonized with her husband. One of her daughters, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, is a doctor of the church. Another of her daughters, Léonie, is in the preliminary stages of having her cause for canonization opened.

Most of these other saints have had their lives whittled down to a handful of facts over time. Zélie, however, has only been canonized for a year. To use the theological term, we, as a church, have gone straight up bonkers learning and spreading everything we can about her.

If you are a mother, there is an aspect of her life that applies to you. She and her husband both worked. She lost several of her children at a young age. She tried to run a professional and profitable business, find good childcare, take care of her ailing parents, educate her special needs child and find time to pray and be active in her parish. She worried over her children’s souls.

She also suffered things that I sincerely hope no one reading this can relate to, like having her house invaded by German soldiers during the Franco-Prussian war.

You have to read her story. You have to take the time to get to know her. As one of her writers pointed out, Zélie did not become a saint because she raised Thérèse. Thérèse became a saint because she was raised by Zélie.

COMING UP: Five saints with laughably ridiculous names

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

If the Church is a hospital for sinners, then these saints are the foreign night-shift nurses whose name you can’t pronounce. They’re dedicated, they love you, and you can’t help but giggle every time you hear their name come over the PA system.

 

 

Paging St. Abakerazum!

Paging St. Abakerazum!

Much like my analogy, our spiritual lives would fall apart if these saints weren’t there to inspire us. Because despite the overwhelming urge to laugh every time we pray for their intercession, we have to admit that they love us more than we could ever imagine.

All you holy men and women, weirdly-named angels and saints of God, pray for us!

1.St. Hilarius

You just know he brings the party.

Because when I arrive I, I’ll bringeth the fire

St. Hilarius ironically appears to be one of the holiest buzzkills in Church history. He was a pope, so he wrote encyclicals — but they were about discipline. He convoked a synod — to discuss hierarchical titles and property sales. He fought some heresies, which is cool, but the heresies weren’t even interesting. All told, I honestly would have had more fun  listening to a pair of Dockers tell me about their food allergies than I did reading his biography. He was basically the Ordinary Time of people.

And yet…his name is Hilarius. The most coma-inducing saint in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” is a homonym for something that causes unadulterated joy.

That, my friends, is truly hilarious.

2. Polycarp

Saint Polycarp with Pokemon

Pro tip: This makes an amazing lockscreen.

In addition to coming devastatingly close to being named after a Pokemon, St. Polycarp was the bishop Symrna and an apostle of St. John the Evangelist. (Maybe I should have led with that?) Anyway, he was connected to just about every important person in the early Church. He even kissed St. Ignatius of Antioch‘s chains as the latter was led to his martyrdom. He was known throughout the ancient world for his love of Christ, hatred of heresy, and gentleness towards sinners.

His most endearing trait, though, was his sass. According to “The Golden Legend”, he once met a notorious heretic in the street and tried to brush by him. “Do you not know me?” asked the heretic. “Yes,” said St. Polycarp. “I know you as the first-born of Satan.” SASS.

The Smyrnian state officials began to persecute everyone who refused to worship the state gods. St. Polycarp refused (SASS), and was condemned to be burned to death. His persecutors wanted to nail him to the stake, but he told them not to bother. (SASS). So they set him on fire.

Then something miraculous happened. St. Polycarp didn’t burn (SASS).  Instead, he began to glow like “bread baking,” “metal refined,” or “a Charmander evolving.” Realizing he was sassing them yet again by refusing to die, the soldiers stabbed him in the heart. That did the trick. However, the fountain of blood that poured out of him was strong enough to put out the fire. In other words, he sassed them in death.

Let this be a lesson to any pagan Roman procounsels reading this: Catholics always have the last sass.

3. St. James the Dismembered

holygrail017

Closest thing to an icon I could find.

St. James was a noble Persian from a Christian family. He was good friends with the prince of Persia (insert video game joke here), and soon fell into his buddy’s pagan ways. When he eventually reverted, the penances he gave himself were so harsh that the prince realized he must be a Christian (remember, this was back in the time of hair shirts and stylites). He charged St. James with being a “Nazarene” and sorcerer, and sentenced him to be cut to pieces until he died (like you do).

The Golden Legend” then commences to give us a literal blow by blow account of St. James’ dismemberment. He cried out a prayer after every digit was amputated, and the resulting prose is truly a Catholic cultural treasure.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Go, third toe, to your fellow toes, and as the grain of wheat bears much fruit, so you at the last day will rest with your companions.”

“Little toe, be comforted, because the big and the little will arise again, and not a hair of the head will perish!”

“Fingers, Lord, I have none to hold out to you, nor hands to extend to you; my feet are cut off and my knees demolished, so that I cannot kneel to you.”

He said that last one while looking at a pile of 27 of his own body parts. I have broken the Second Commandment over a paper cut. Let’s all learn from his story, shall we?

Finally, after eight hours of this slasher film-worthy torture, his executioners cut off his head. He is the patron saint of lost vocations, which feels vaguely threatening if you think about it too much.

4. Saint Olav the Fat

Jabba the Hutt

Artist rendering

I really assumed his story couldn’t be better than his name, but I was wrong. Let’s start with the fact he was a Viking (seriously). Then let’s move on to his pedigree as a descendent of King Harald Fairhair, meaning he was a pale, flaxen, princely mound of flesh who also wore horns on his head. He was like a ye olde Norwegian prince version of Jim Gaffigan.

St. the Fat was basically always fighting someone in a misguided attempted to serve the Church. He later brought missionaries to Norway to evangelize his people, but got impatient and tried to force them to love Jesus. The people apparently would have preferred a more pastoral approach, as they revolted and forced him to flee to Russia. Some people might have taken this opportunity to re-evaluate their lives and make some changes. St. the Fat gathered troops and stormed Norway. Many parts, one body.

His plan failed when he was killed in battle. The Norwegians gathered around the massive crater that presumably formed when his seemingly infinite girth hit the earth. “Perhaps we misjudged him,” they mused. “Perhaps his multitude of varicose veins were only evidence of his enormous heart.”* So they made him a champion of national independence and a martyr. His battle axe is still in the Norwegian coat of arms.

Coat_of_arms_of_Norway_Edited

You’re welcome, people of Norway.

If that doesn’t make you proud of your Catholic heritage, I honestly don’t know what will.

*Quotes may be bald-faced lies. Except for the St. James dismemberment ones—I cannot stress enough that those are actually real.