There is a saying in Proverbs that always tickles me, no matter what thicket of concerns I happen to be snared in at the time. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise…” (Proverbs 13:20). The faces of friends, writers, and saints who have kept me company through the long years flit through my head like the pages of a family album.
And I am thankful. I have always felt sorry for those who have never had the way or the wanting to befriend the saints. These holy but imperfect souls come in every description, ethnic background, and personality.
They all have something to teach us, something that draws us closer to our God and to our true selves. Because I so enjoy connecting with the saints. It’s like being asked to spend time with my own family or dearest friends. Who could not find a favorite in the likes of Clare and Francis of Assisi, Thérèse of Lisieux and Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross? These six are among the Church’s wisest of guides. And they were just waiting to be asked, as the unnamed disciple asked Jesus himself, “teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Theoretically, we all want to pray more as soon as “time allows.” Yet prayer tends to get preempted by things beyond our control, like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. What we fail to see is that these events cannot hold a candle to the worthiness of prayer.
So, we count on God’s willingness to wait, without complaint, for our promised attention down the road. I do not believe that anyone has ever put it better than Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. She nails it when she observes, “To say I love God but I do not pray much is like saying I love life but I do not breathe much.”
I was led to pray with Francis on Mount La Verna as he begged God for the privilege of sharing Christ’s suffering on the cross. His prayer was so fervent that it generated the stigmata for Francis, and a more mature appreciation of suffering for me. Years later, when my only son took his own life, I came to understand what it meant to bear the wounds of Christ in my heart, my mind, my memory.
I was led to pray with Clare at her bare-bones enclosure in San Damiano where she planted her soul in silence and praised God in the Liturgy of the Hours. Her example encouraged me to create my own monastic cell in a corner of whatever home our oft-transplanted family occupied.
I was led to pray with Ignatius as he imaginatively applied his physical senses to recreating the Upper Room where the Lord Jesus hosted his Last Supper with his friends. And the saint and I were among them, hearing Jesus’s voice as he blessed the bread and wine, tasting his Body and Blood, feeling our hearts grow heavy with the threat of his arrest. I was led to pray with Thérèse at the Carmel of Lisieux where she lived her Little Way of self-conquest and simple conversation with the Lord. She and I consoled each other when Jesus appeared not to hear a word we uttered.
I was led to offer the Lord’s Prayer with Teresa at St. Joseph’s Chapel in Avila, where La Madre taught me to enter into this familiar prayer’s inner meaning. With her help, I was able to turn an often-empty vocal prayer into a meditation on filial love, trust, and ever-willing forgiveness. I was led to pray with John of the Cross as he, in contemplation, ascended Mount Carmel, emptying himself of all concerns and anxieties along the arduous way. I followed behind him, hoping to be filled at the bubbling mountain spring of God’s surpassing love, wisdom, and delight.
For decades, the saints have been my mentors in prayer, faith companions whom the centuries cannot separate, beloved friends bound by Wisdom who “in every generation…passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets” (Wisdom 7:27). Our saints await us, gathered under the Spirit of Wisdom’s bright wings. Let’s pray.