By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published April 25, 2013
Events from this past Easter Sunday managed to place me into a direct personal relationship with two Catholic saints—well, in truth, I was put into immediate connection with two local relatives of two saints—and since then I have not been able to stop thinking about the coincidence of those two separate Easter encounters.
St. Marianne Cope, the Franciscan nun, worked with the leper communities in Hawaii alongside St. Damien at a time when leprosy often resulted in individuals being discarded to remote locations out of ignorance and fear on the part of society. Those religious like St. Marianne and St. Damien were probably considered mad to dedicate their very lives to serving the sick and afflicted—risking their own health to care for those that society would just as soon abandon and marginalize.
St. Marianne, who was recently canonized, has a cousin who lives in our Cathedral parish. I’ve spoken about this fortunate relationship before with her, as she is very proud (and rightfully so) to have a saint within her own family heritage. We should all be honored to have this personal living link with holiness as a member of our local Church.
Clemens-August Cardinal von Galen was the Bishop of Münster (Germany) during the Nazi regime, and he had the great courage and the unshakeable faith to reject openly their politics of hatred and oppression. His courage was exceptional at a time when people were routinely being killed for daring to voice any opposition to the regime. Yet Adolf Hitler was obviously at a loss as to what to do about this bishop who confronted his Nazi hatred with such episcopal fortitude. Cardinal von Galen was nicknamed the “Lion of Münster” because of his incredible courage and determination in speaking up for those who had been targeted for destruction by the government—the mentally and physically impaired, the poor, and especially his Jewish neighbors. He was beatified in October of 2005. I had Easter Sunday dinner with one of his grandnephews, and I heard once again about this courageous pastor from one of his living relatives.
Too many of us tend to think of those who are saints (or blessed) as being detached from us by many centuries, cultures, nations and interests. In truth, heroic holiness is often much closer than we might ever imagine. I am a firm believer that we all know saints—perhaps most of whom will never be formally canonized or declared blessed but who are saints nonetheless because of their heroic courage and dedication to the faith and to the unselfish care of their neighbors.
Last week as we all watched in horror the senseless attack on the Boston Marathon runners, we were perhaps just as surprised to witness the courageous compassion of people who attended the wounded and the frightened, and opened their own homes and lives to care for those who were hurt. Repeatedly the media spoke of the selflessness of those who ran into harm’s way to care for their neighbors and perfect strangers.
We are often startled at the courage and generosity that surrounds us in times of crisis. There is a great nobility and goodness that resides in the hearts of many people that rises to the surface in moments of tragedy and disaster. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such displays of compassion and tenderness visible in the ordinary moments of life? That’s what real saints do; that’s what distinguishes them from most of us—they love others and witness their faith even in routine opportunities and at all times.