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Sainthood for the smartphone generation

Beth Doherty  |  14 October 2019

On a Sunday afternoon earlier this year, I sat in my mother’s craft room as she pieced together a St Teresa of Avila costume for me for the feast day at the Catholic school where I teach.

Staff and students were being encouraged to come dressed as an inspirational woman from history. I decided my inspirational figure was going to be the Carmelite mystic who became the first female Doctor of the Church – a pretty good historical role model for young Catholic women today.

Few Catholic saints

When the feast day came around, however, people dressed as Catholic saints from history were few and far between. Just two of us, in fact, out of a school of 800 girls.

It seemed in fact that the Church tradition had been almost entirely lost in a sea of Kardashians, Kath and Kim and even a few Spice Girls. Moreover, why would high school-aged girls of the new millennium want to come as a saint, even if they were celebrating a religious feast day?

With their intense visions and extraordinary religious zeal, the experiences of so many of the saints of history seem implausible to young people raised in a de-mystified world. Yet I would venture to say that the mystic life isn’t so far from our experience today.

I think of a nun I know, who would never dream of donning the flowing habit of her foundress, but she embraces a different type of prayerful contemplation. A few years ago, she along with representatives from other faiths, sat quietly and prayerfully in the office of a local politician and was arrested for this action in support of refugees.

I think of the president of St Vincent de Paul in a local parish who does daily visits to people on the margins, offering Woolworths vouchers, food hampers and confidential counselling.

I think of a meal I shared with two sisters from an apostolic community whose empty convent has been repurposed as a house for asylum seekers.

I think even of the small moments in my own life when I have experienced something of a mystical moment. Just recently, as I tore my hair out in front of my work computer while negotiating the new marking system at the college, my coordinator came over and gently asked if he could pray for me. I found myself fighting back tears at the kindness of the gesture.

St Clare of Assisi

In the same workplace, our principal, who was formerly an art teacher, unveiled a bronze statue on the front lawn of our college. The modern interpretation of St Clare of Assisi features an enlarged ear, to represent her ‘listening with the ear of her heart’, and she holds a book in her right hand, open to the book of Proverbs.

While the world they were born into, and the lives they lived, might be very different from the world of students today, I think saints like St Teresa and St Clare still have something to offer young people, a way to live a mystical life beyond all their gadgets and distractions.

‘We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become’, St Clare wrote so many centuries ago. ‘If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.’

Image: Caroline Lanzon


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