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    Saints can shed light on our journey.

    During the season of Lent, there are a number of saints' feast days the church remembers.

    We can look to these saints to teach us how to live Lenten lives of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.


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    Three pillars, three saints

    By Effie Caldarola

    Catholic News Service

    The three pillars of Lent -- prayer, fasting, almsgiving -- enrich our spiritual life during this penitential season. But they can also be challenging.

    Saints can shed light on our journey. So let's begin with almsgiving and look to St. Katharine Drexel as a profound example of the depth to which this practice calls us.

    In many ways, Drexel is a saint for our time. She died in 1955 at the age of 96, and her feast day of March 3 stands like a beacon at the beginning of Lent.

    Born in Philadelphia into great wealth, Drexel was a debutante, a world traveler, a well-educated girl who made the society pages. Using the jargon of the Gilded Age, when extravagant displays of wealth marked success, she had every opportunity to marry "well."

    But Drexel heard a different call. Like a page out of today's news, the plight of people of color in the U.S. troubled her. On a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and encouraged him to send more missionaries to serve Native Americans. The pontiff replied by asking her why she didn't become a missionary.

    Eventually, Katharine forsook her status to found an order of missionary nuns and dedicate her life and fortune to serving Native and African-Americans. Reportedly, this prompted a late 19th-century headline that could have been ripped from today's tabloids: "Gives up Seven Million."

    Among Drexel's achievements: the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the U.S. for African-Americans; 145 missions for Native Americans; and a system of black Catholic schools. Drexel battled segregation until a heart attack forced her retirement in the 1930s.

    Drexel's sanctity had its roots at home: Her father and stepmother were pious and generous, reminding us that the example we give our children makes a difference. Another lesson: Unlike Drexel or the rich young man of the Gospel, we may not be called to give up everything, but our faith challenges us all to give sacrificially and to reject the false idols of status and wealth.

    All saints are examples of intense prayer, but St. Ignatius of Loyola is an outstanding guide to deeper prayer during Lent. Despite being born in the Basque country in 1491, he has great relevance today. The Spiritual Exercises that he developed are considered one of the most influential books on spirituality ever written, and they have experienced a huge burst of popularity since the Second Vatican Council.

    Numerous books are available to guide ordinary people in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and a quick online search of "Ignatian spirituality" can lead to a wealth of help for Lent.

    Like Drexel, Ignatius was born into wealth. A product of his era, he was infatuated with romantic ideals of chivalry and warfare that he believed proved one's manhood and won women's hearts.

    But after his leg was seriously injured during combat, the young nobleman was forced to spend weeks in bed recuperating, where he hoped to read the romantic literature of the era. Instead, the lives of the saints were available.

    Ignatius began to discern the difference he felt in his interior life after reading of saints versus reading of romantic heroes. It was the beginning of his journey into understanding God's way of speaking to us in our own lives, a journey he eventually shared with his followers, who became the Jesuits. Today, he shares that journey of discernment with all who explore the treasure of his Spiritual Exercises.

    During Lent, Catholics are asked to go beyond the fasting proscribed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and "fast" in some way meaningful to our unique faith journey. In a culture besotted with self-care and self-indulgence, we often question whether ascetic practices like fasting are really helpful.

    Venerable Matt Talbot provides an example of someone who used asceticism to help him on his journey from addiction to wholeness. Born into a large family, Talbot lived in poverty-stricken, post-famine Ireland. He began work at age 12, and that's when a soul-consuming alcoholism took root.

    At the age of 28, Talbot, with the help of a confessor (and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius!) began his journey of sobriety. His abstinence was accompanied by a radical conversion. A laborer and a union man, he joined the Secular Franciscan Order, gave up another addiction -- smoking -- and began to lead his ordinary life with extraordinary penance and self-sacrifice.

    Talbot is at the second rung of a four-step ladder to canonization. A miracle attributed to his intercession could lead to him being declared "Blessed." But in the meantime, thousands believe he has helped them in their struggle with addiction.

    All of us are attached to something that impedes spiritual growth. During Lent, fasting from a behavior -- drinking, gossiping, addictive screen time -- that interferes with our relationship with Jesus can lead to conversion. An attribute of Talbot was that people described him, despite his self-denial, as a very happy man.

    May the discipline of fasting, the discernment of prayer and the justice of almsgiving bring us joy this Lent.

    (Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)


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    Saints to know during Lent

    By Maureen Pratt

    Catholic News Service

    Who is your favorite saint?

    Oh, what a simple, yet very complicated question!

    As a child, I learned about saints from mostly secondhand sources and had no clear "favorite" of my own. My first childhood religious book, whose tattered red cover and well-worn pages show just how much I enjoyed it, was laden with illustrations and stories of several saints, including St. Elizabeth, St. Bernadette de Soubirous and St. Joan of Arc -- too many amazing examples to choose just one.

    My adult relatives and teachers also told stories of the saints, and their enthusiasm was contagious. I enjoyed learning and listening, but skirted overt favoritism because I felt sometimes there was some friction, too, when important decisions such as selecting a confirmation name arose or "St. ---" was going to play "St. ---" in a hotly contested tournament!

    When I left home for college, I still had no favorite saint. But I wanted to know these holy men and women better, and no better way than to read what they actually wrote.

    I began to read St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologiae," St. Augustine of Hippo's "The Confessions of Saint Augustine," and "The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions" (St. Perpetua's was the first woman saint's account of her faith journey and martyrdom), and other original works by the saints.

    I learned the historical context of when and how they lived. And I learned more details of their lives, struggles, hopes, faith and how they influenced one another, too (St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare, for example).

    No sound bites, these volumes! It takes more time and effort to read through and understand a book penned by someone who lived centuries ago or was from another culture. But the wisdom and beauty of their words carry faith and God's grace straight from one heart and soul to another like no abridged version can.

    By reading these classic works, I have deepened my personal connection with each saint and found inspiration with these examples of holiness that strengthens with each passing year.

    St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's letters, available online through the Vincentian Heritage Collection (, give amazing insight into a woman guided by God but still in deep mourning for profoundly human losses -- an inspiration for anyone who is also suffering.

    "The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila" by St. Teresa of Avila is a stirring account of her devotion to God, even, at times, in the midst of great physical pain and external challenge.

    St. Francis de Sales' "Philotea" (or "An Introduction to the Devout Life") gives constructive, practical guidance for living in the world, but not of it (and allows glimpses into his sense of humor, too, which helps us get to know him all the more).

    Closer to our time, St. John Paul II wrote many books and other works that inspire and instruct us today (his papal letters and other works can be read for free on his website:

    St. Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) also left us a treasure of written work that allows us to "meet" her at any time, especially Lent, when our thoughts and prayers turn to renewal of our lives and work for others.

    I have just developed another and very painful manifestation of lupus -- autoimmune sensory polyneuropathy. The symptoms and the medication to treat them have limited my ability to move about, so this Lent, I'll be much more isolated. But I won't be alone.

    St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Kolkata, St. Francis De Sales and others are right at hand.

    It's a blessing that I don't have a "favorite" saint -- with each one I "meet," I discover more about what it means to live with courage, love and faith. Put another way, I can't think of one I'd ignore!

    (Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service. Her website is


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    Saints with feast days this Lent

    By Paul Senz

    Catholic News Service

    The lives of the saints are presented to us by the church as exemplars of a Christian life. We look to their example for instruction on how to live our faith, how to guide ourselves into a life in Christ. During the season of Lent, there are a number of saints' feast days that can be particularly instructive.

    Since the date of Easter is not fixed -- it is celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox -- the dates that fall under Lent change from year to year. This broadens the potential for different saints' feast days to fall during this holy season.

    We strive to commemorate the feasts of these holy men and women while maintaining a reverent and penitential disposition. This does not mean we must be somber-faced.

    On the contrary: This means we should look at how these saints can help us live Lenten lives. Here are a few examples of saints whose feasts fall during Lent this year, and how they can help us in this way.

    March 7 is the feast of Sts. Felicity and Perpetua. These holy women and their companions were martyred in Roman Carthage around A.D. 203. Perpetua was a woman of noble birth, and Felicity her slave; not even yet baptized, the women were catechumens, so completely taken with the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they willingly gave their lives for the sake of their faith.

    St. Katharine Drexel is another figure who has left us a wonderful example of the self-sacrifice that is part and parcel of authentically living Lent, emptying ourselves for the sake of others.

    Drexel, born in 1858 in Philadelphia, grew up quite wealthy, but with the understanding that the family's wealth was to be shared with others.

    When she inherited the family fortune, she dedicated herself to caring for Native Americans and African-Americans. Pope Leo XIII encouraged her to become a missionary during an audience, and she eventually founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. After starting more than 60 schools (including Xavier University in New Orleans), St. Katharine Drexel died in 1955. We celebrate her feast on March 3.

    There is one more saint I would like to look at, whose feast falls during Lent: St. Joseph. This solemnity is typically marked on March 19, but in 2017 the feast is moved to March 20. (March 19 is the third Sunday of Lent this year.)

    Among the great exemplars of a Christian life, St. Joseph stands out as a particular model. As husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, St. Joseph dedicated his every moment and effort to the well-being of those in his charge -- true self-sacrificial love.

    There are many more saints whose feasts fall during Lent this year, whose stories provide guidance for us today; and there are a great many more beyond that who can serve as examples of how to live Lenten lives.

    (Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.)


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    This year, St. Patrick's feast day, March 17, falls on a Friday during Lent. When this occurs, some diocesan bishops grant dispensations from observing the norm for abstinence from meat on Fridays in Lent. Instead, bishops often recommend another form of penance or charitable work to continue the spirit of Lent for the day.

    The Code of Canon Law states that "for a just cause and according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop, a pastor can grant in individual cases a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance, or can grant a commutation of the obligation into other pious works" (Canon 1245).

    Although the code allows for individual dispensations, bishops are able to grant dispensations to all members of his diocese. Irish Catholics, all those devoted to St. Patrick and all Catholics can look to their diocesan website or call the diocesan office to find out if a dispensation has been granted in their diocese.


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About Faith Alive
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