Over the last couple of months I have been freely following Pope Benedict XVI’s Wednesday Audiences where he highlights various holy women in Church history. Many women propelled into his spotlight are familiar to me: Joan of Arc, Clare of Assisi, and Catherine of Siena. Others, such as Hildegard of Bingen, St. Matilda, and Blessed Angela of Foligno, are less familiar, providing an opportunity for new role models to be introduced into my life.
During his August 25, 2010 address from his papel summer residence Castel Gandolfo, Benedict XVI addressed the importance of saints in our lives. Here’s a small portion of that address (full text available here):
It is also important to have “travel companions” on the journey of our Christian life: I am thinking of a spiritual director, a confessor, persons with whom we can share the experience of faith, but I am also thinking of the Virgin Mary and of the saints. Each one should have a saint that is familiar to him, to whom he feels close with prayer and intercession, but also to imitate him or her.
I have read a lot about the lives of the saints but I haven’t done well at transferring that knowledge into my prayer life. Do I really ask for specific intercessions from the saints as Benedict encourages? Have I been inviting special intercessors to walk beside me along my journey? Am I as familiar with my patron as I could be? The answers are no, no, and no. It’s an area where I want to and should do better.
So, it was quite timely when I spotted this flyer titled Novena 2011: Holy Women of the Church at my parish, and I thought, “This looks cool!” I made some notes on my calendar in hopes to attend at least one of the presentations.
Okay, so the word “presentation” is definitely the wrong noun to describe what I experienced. I had no idea the beauty in store when I walked into Saint Joseph Catholic Church yesterday. Here’s the scoop: on January 9 the parish began a nine-week novena in honor of Saint Joseph, guardian of the family. The novena is structured as a prayer service that includes song, exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, group prayer of the Rosary followed by the Saint Joseph Novena and Litany, then the presentation on one of these holy women of the Church and ending with Benediction. The specific intentions of the novena are for adult faith formation; sacredness of life and growth in spirituality of all members of the Church; vocations to priesthood, diaconate, and religious life; and preparation for Lent.
Yesterday was the first opportunity I was available to attend. The entire experience was quite simply one of the most prayerful, spiritual, uplifting experiences I have encountered. When I walked in the door, I was welcomed as a stranger and invited to intimately pray with the others gathered. As I prayed from my pew, I noticed a family of five to my right whose oldest child couldn’t have been older than eight, all members prayerfully kneeling with rosaries dangling from their fingers. To my left sat a frail-looking elderly couple both in wheelchairs with voices that remained strong through the entire Novena. A great witness to the One Body of Christ being many parts. The presentation on Saint Edith Stein, a.k.a. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was masterfully given by Monsignor Beeson who provided a wonderful biography of her life (a Jewish convert, imitated Teresa of Avila and became a Carmelite assuming the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and later killed by Nazis in the concentration camp). My greatest takeaway? Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’ constant prayer was “Learn to live at God’s hands.” I’m in transition right now in several of areas of my life, and these six words were exactly what I needed to hear yesterday. The Lord has handed me a golden opportunity to ask Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to become a companion on my journey through these transitions.
Less than 24-hours later, I am craving more and hope my schedule allows to attend again. There are five weeks left of the novena with a “rock-star” lineup of remaining speakers and presentations. Up next: Des Moines’ Bishop Pates will present on Saint Teresa of Avila. Whoa, Bishop Pates? Guess the organizing committee felt they needed their own touchdown on Super Bowl Sunday. And what a treat! How often does the average lay Catholic have an opportunity to participate in this type of prayer services with their bishop? Not often in my experience. And oh yeah, about that Super Bowl? The Novena ends at 4:30 leaving plenty of time to get home for the opening kickoff.
For those in the Des Moines area, please consider attending one of the remaining prayer services. The Novena 2011 is held at Saint Joseph Catholic Church on Sundays now through March 6 from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.