November 1 is the feast of All Saints. This feast focuses on those saints not formally canonized by the Church. (Writer Kathy Coffey calls them “God’s Glorious Nobodies.”) The feast also underscores one of the greatest treasures we have for our spiritual life: the array of holy people who have gone before us in the faith—canonized or not. The question I pose today is: How well do you know the canonized Saints?
Do you know, for example, which saint is the patron saint of fishermen (and fisherwomen)? If you said St. Peter, you’re right. But who is the patron saint of airline pilots? Believe it or not, it is St. Therese of Lisieux (often called “the Little Flower.”) How could this young cloistered nun, who never left her convent and never flew in an airplane, be the patron saint of airline pilots? Because, as Pope Pius XII said, “She traveled the world in her heart.”
Someone who has done much to make the saints come alive for us is Brother Mickey O’Neill McGrath, an oblate of St. Francis de Sales currently living in Camden, New Jersey. Brother Mickey is a prolific artist and popular speaker and retreat director. If you visit his website (bromickeymcgrath.com) you will see pictures of his many books, posters, calendars, holy cards, and postcards. His artwork is vibrant, strong, and often whimsical. And he has published a fascinating three volume series on the saints called Patrons and Protectors.
Each volume contains full page (10″ x 10″) illustrations of 28 different saints. Some are well-known (like Saints Ann, Luke, and Francis of Assisi) while others are more obscure (like Saints Apollonia, Fiacre, Pelagia). His illustrations depict each saint engaged in the occupation for which they are patrons or protectors. So St. Therese of Lisieux is sitting in the cockpit of an airplane while St. Pelagia (patron of actors) is performing on a stage. Opposite each illustration is a brief commentary about the saint followed by a reflection written by someone who is engaged in that particular profession.
Let’s look at two of the saints. First, St. Joseph, patron of carpenters. Joseph is pictured in his modern woodworking shop. He is putting the final touches on the cradle which he has to finish by December 25. That date is circled on the calendar on the wall behind him. Brother Mickey puts the Holy Spirit (symbolized by a white dove) somewhere in each painting. In this one, the dove is testing out the cradle! Brother Mickey also has some creative halos for his saints. Joseph’s halo, for example, is the blade from a circular saw that’s hanging up in his shop.
The carpenter’s reflection includes these beautiful words: “Being able to use my eyes, heart and hands to build things that will be used for generations to come gives me great satisfaction. To create an everyday object and give it beauty, warmth and soul—this is the woodworker’s job.”
Another Saint that Brother Mickey introduces us to is St. Apollonia, patron of dentists. She lived in
Alexandria, Egypt in the third century and served the church as a deaconess. She was martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Phillip. Part of the torture she endured was having her teeth knocked out. In Brother Mickey’s drawing St. Appollonia wears pink and turquoise, colors associated with peace and healing. The Holy Spirit almost looks like her little dental assistant! The saint’s halo is the light many dentists use when working on a patient’s teeth.
A pediatric dentist writes the reflection on her profession. She says: “I feel honored every day that families trust me with their greatest treasure: their children. Saint Appollonia risked her life to comfort suffering imprisoned Christians. Although I certainly do not risk my life taking care of my patients, I try to dedicate myself to alleviate suffering and provide comfort.”
In the introduction to volume 2 of Patrons and Protectors, Fr. James Martin, SJ, reminds us that, through our everyday work, we are all called to be co-creators with God in building the Kingdom of God. Brother Mickey’s beautiful illustrations and commentaries present us with some of those fascinating individuals who have gone before us and show us the way. The books challenge us to see the work we do with fresh eyes. It also reminds us that “the Holy Spirit is hovering or nesting” in all our workplaces!
One simple definition of sanctity is this: following Jesus in our time and place with our limitations and our gifts. With that in mind, I chose the song “The Summons” for today. In the words of this song may you hear Jesus calling you to follow him more deeply wherever you are and in whatever work you are engaged.
Are you familiar with the saints? If so, do any of them inspire you personally? Who and why?
If you’ve read any of Brother Mickey’s books or you’ve seen any of his artwork, what do you think of his art?
If you have attended any of Brother Mickey’s talks, retreats, or workshops what was that experience like for you?
Do any of the words of the song touch your heart today?