“Pray for me, poor sinner..”
Saint Bernadette Soubirous
As a child, the first Saint I ever learned about was Bernadette Soubirous. Not surprisingly, then, she has long been one of my dearest friends in Heaven, one I turn to every day, and for whom I have the deepest affection and respect. I made a point of reading the life of Bernadette and learning everything about her. I was deeply struck by her true holiness as her life progressed – this was not because she saw the Blessed Virgin, but because she was entirely faithful to the message entrusted to her by the Mother of God.
Bernadette’s life in the convent of St Gildard at Nevers is fascinating and it is there that one discovers the real Bernadette. In her thirteen years there, she faced many trials of all different sorts – and she used every one of them to advance along the path of holiness. Throughout all this, Bernadette remained completely humble – true humility, not the false sort. She saw clearly that in herself she was nothing special – “a broom used by the Blessed Virgin and then put back behind the door”, as she put it. Her final words at the moment of her death, noted at the top of this page, emphasise that deep humility and say much about her sanctity. Bernadette was no ‘plaster saint’ – she had to work hard at becoming holy, constantly seeking to overcome herself and her will, and it was a constant struggle; but she was successful.
Another fine example of deep holiness is the life of the Venerable Matt Talbot. He lived in Dublin, Ireland, where he died in 1925. Like Bernadette, he, too, was no plaster saint. In the earlier part of his life, Matt struggled greatly with addiction to alcohol. He realised he was on the path to ruin and later noted – “I was terribly fond of drink, but God gave me the grace to give it up; it was a great struggle for me”. That struggle would remain with him, but his determination and perseverance in the face of extraordinary temptation was remarkable. The secret of his success was his deep prayer life and reliance on the frequent reception of the Sacraments, including weekly Confession; Matt was well aware that alone, he would fall – but the grace of God offered him all that he needed. His life was lived in deep obscurity and deepening sanctity – and his name only became known after his death. Since then, he has become a great example to many others, and his particular struggles have a great resonance in our own day.
When we look around at those the Church presents to us as faithful witnessed, we are certain to find some Saints (and some still to be canonised) who seem to make a deep and lasting impression upon us, and to whom we feel a sense of connection. This is as it should be – these holy men and women are raised up by the Church for our edification, that we might follow their example.
It is always good to have Heavenly friends. Take a look at the lives of some of these holy people, take one or two as patrons in your own life; learn about their lives and why they became holy, and when you have made their acquaintance, seek to become good friends with them. The Saints in Heaven are only too happy to help us with our spiritual and temporal needs, if only we would ask for their help. It also means that as we ourselves try to walk the path of holiness in our own lives, we do so in good company, a friend at our side.
May all the holy Saints of God pray for us.