Thursday, January 7, 2010

Saints, Preserve Us

When I turned ten, my father bought a special book for me that Christmas: Butler’s Lives of the Saints. It was a small hardcover, profusely illustrated and with entries for every day of the year. I loved that book and read it faithfully—almost daily, for years. It even came with me when I entered the convent after high school graduation. Somewhere along the way, with all the moving I did, I lost the book. This occurred in the late 1960s, and perhaps was not that great a loss—since at least two new editions had come out by then.

Alban Butler (1710-1773) was an English cleric who spent nearly 30 years compiling the “Lives of the Saints,” biographies of over 1,600 saints arranged in order of date. The book was first published (four volumes) in 1756-59; and several revised editions came out during the next 200+ years. The latest edition (12 volumes) is available from the Liturgical Press.

Canonization is the process by which the Catholic Church recognizes saints. In the 1960s a pruning occurred; several names disappeared (including one of my favorites, St. Christopher) and some feast days were rescheduled. However, the number of saints has increased greatly during these past 25 years—the largest number having been added by Pope John Paul II. I have looked into the 1990 edition of Butler’s Lives, edited by Michael Walsh, and scanned the entries covering several months. I am somewhat disconcerted. So many strangers!

Looking at the January feasts, for example, I am surprised at how few saints’ names I recognize. Of the 31 saints listed, I recognize only six! How many of us know of St. Thorfinn (Jan. 8), St. Sava (Jan. 14) or St. Eystein (Jan. 26)? I am aware that the newer editions of Butler include many more diverse saints — ethnically and nationally. This is all to the good, I am sure, though I do miss the familiarity I once had with “my” saints. However, we are in a new year and new decade with new beginnings; I shall begin to acquaint myself with “new” saints. That they will provide inspiration, I have no doubt.

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