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Unity in the Lives of the Saints and Early Church Fathers

By Denise Bossert

Pick up a book by any Saint. St. Augustineís Confessions. St. Teresa of Avilaís Interior Castle. St. John of the Crossí The Dark Night of the Soul. Immediately, you will sense that you have been plunged into deep spiritual waters. Dive a little deeper. Explore St. Francis de Salesí Devout Life or St. Thereseí autobiography, Story of a Soul. Of course, if you want to remain a Protestant, this might be risky. You are, after all, bound to fall in love, and then it will be all over.

Thatís how it was for me. Nobody knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to become Catholic. I didnít marry a Catholic and say to myself, Gee, I guess Iíll convert to his faith. No, I simply picked up a book one day and began reading.

I was thirty-nine when it happened. My father had passed away, and I inherited his spiritual library. I was drowning in grief, struggling for answers to the most profound questions on suffering and death. Nothing made any sense. So, I threw myself into Dadís library, hoping to find a line in a book, a note in a margin, anything that would help me put the pieces of my faith back together.

I had never read a book by a Saint, and at that point, I probably couldnít have named even one of them, except of course a few of the original twelve. Other than those first Apostles, I thought of saints as people I knew Ė people who were holy Ė perhaps even people who were still alive but living really godly lives. I thought of my maternal grandmother as a saint. Maybe even my dad. I had an uncle who was a famous United Methodist evangelist. Maybe he was a saint.

Itís odd, really, that my thoughts went so quickly to those I knew, but I never gave a thought to the Saints of the Ages, the ones who had passed down this faith, even if it meant death at the stake. Even if it meant death by the jaws of a lion. Or on the spike. On the rack. Or even if they were skinned alive.

I guess that was when I first realized that the gaps in learning are there because you donít even know you have gaps that need to be filled.

You donít think to read about the Saints because they were never a part of your schema. You donít know what youíre missing because you arenít likely to miss what youíve never known.

But then your dad dies, and you inherit a box of books, and at the bottom of the box is a paperback, and you begin to read.

St. Augustine was great, you say to yourself. So letís give St. Teresa a try, and you discover prayer like youíve never discovered it before. Then thereís St. John of the Cross, and you cry as you read because, suddenly, your dadís death makes sense. Suffering and death and the father you loved Ė and all those questions Ė everything changes into something beautiful, and you look over your shoulder and wonder if your dad is laughing at you as you stumble into this beautiful new world of Saints and prayer and Truth.

Hereís the scary thing Ė you suddenly realize that these wonderful, beautiful, holy people were Catholic! Hey, wait a minute, you say, I canít be attracted to that Church. But the lives of the Saints Ė and now even the writings of those early Church Fathers Ė St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Polycarp of Smyrna - the men who knew the Twelve personally Ė they are all calling to you and cheering you on.

Like a Great Cloud of Witnesses.

Suddenly, you remember Hebrews 12, and you hear the faint rumble of cheering.

It all makes sense now, that mysterious Communion of Saints, and thatís when you know there is one Church Ė one Home Ė and Sheís calling to you.

Thatís when you know that the lives of these men and women speak of a legacy of faith that you have only just begun to uncover. And you know, if you let them take you by the hand, it will be okay. The fear will fall away, the fog will lift, and you will find yourself standing before a beautiful, old, holy Church. And you will want to climb the steps at any cost, and claim your very own seat at the Table.

Jesus Praying