These are the times when I find myself praying more than watching the news or caring about things happening that I have no control over in the first place.
During one of my spiritual health breaks from the culture at large, I started thinking about saints. As much as asking for the prayers of A-listers like Sts. Peter, Paul, Augustine, and Teresa of Ávila is time well spent, I took to ruminating about some of the more than 10,000 men and women the Church has declared saints. I wondered: Could the stories of some of the most obscure saints help bolster weaker vessels like me in these times?
What I discovered was living proof of the adage that every sinner has a future, and every saint has a past. I was enlightened by learning of basically forgotten saints who have a lot to say to many of us in the here and now.
One of them was St. Longinus. I’m sure many of those reading this know who St. Longinus was — but I certainly did not, until I Googled “saints with shady pasts.” The list I found was a long one, and Longinus probably ranks in the top five. Tradition holds he was the centurion who drove the spear into Jesus’ side on Golgotha and then proclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” He then spent the rest of his life as an evangelist.
If there was hope for the man whose job it was to make sure Jesus of Nazareth was dead, then who are we to worry? St. Longinus is actually as relevant today as he was when he was a Roman centurion in good standing: I think of the testimonies that have been shared from doctors who were abortionists, or individuals who worked at Planned Parenthood abortion mills who had their moments of clarity and redemption.
The past of St. Mary of Egypt is harder to recount in a publication meant for readers of all ages: to put it politely, hers is a tale of debauchery. Unlike Mary Magdalene, this Mary offered her “services” for free. The descriptions of her lifestyle convey a fourth-century version of the libertine lifestyle choices that we currently see promulgated by the popular culture, and she certainly seemed like a lost cause. But God works on his own timetable, and when Mary was traveling the Pilgrim’s road to the Holy Land for very unholy reasons, God got through to her. She secluded herself in the desert, was cleansed from her impurities, and lived the rest of her life in holiness.
Blessed Bartolo Longo straddled the 19th and 20th century, being born in 1841 and dying in 1926. Born and raised Catholic, he went off to college and threw himself into a world of atheism, anti-Catholicism, and the occult. (That is an old story that can be retold by countless modern Catholic parents who have watched their own children follow this same path in some of the most prestigious institutes of higher education — and have the student loan debt to prove it.)
If exiting the Catholic Church was not bad enough for his devout parents to take, his entrance into the occult that culminated in “ordination” as a priest of Satan would have finished the job. Only it did not. Tradition tells us that through the intercession of his deceased father, Bartolo saw the light and returned to God. For the next 50 years he built schools and orphanages for the children of criminals and used the rosary as his weapon of choice against the dark one. The real hero in this saint’s story is his father, who proves that sometimes our petitions for those we love have to be taken all the way to the home office before an answer is given.
It is a strange kind of comfort knowing that in a world so racked with trouble, there are a lot more than just three saints. Such heroic stories offer an alternative to the chaos and confusion our world wallows in, and reminders that by the grace of God we also share in a saint’s future.