(Please bear with me. What started out as a few short lines grew a bit longer. I hope you’ll stay with me to the end.)
I read a blog post on the suffering church and the feeling we all get from time to time while considering the formidable battles, both spiritual and physical, that are waging on many fronts all around us. And it can be overwhelming.
As a Catholic there certain means available to help in such times. In the spiritual realm I immediately think of St. Michael. How many times have I prayed the Prayer to St. Michael to help give me strength in those times? Too many to count. And I can stand before you and say that each time I feel strengthened and reassured. In Hebrew, Michael means “who is like God” (mi-who, ke-as or like, El-deity), which is traditionally interpreted as a rhetorical question: “Who is like God?” (which expects an answer in the negative) to imply that no one is like God. In this way, Michael is reinterpreted as a symbol of humility before God.
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
I took the first photo near Tarnov, Nebraska, just outside of Columbus back in 2002. It’s located on the grounds of St. Michael’s Church, a place listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. While looking through the photos I took a decade ago I decided I need to write more about it sometime, and return there with a better camera to document the grounds. On his shield are the words “No One Is Like God.”
The second photo was taken in 2008 when my family and I were on the way to a vacation in Minnesota. It’s located at the Grotto of the Redemption in northwest Iowa at West Bend. That, too, is quite an experience and I found several photos I’d forgotten that I should document here sometime. Click on either photo in order to enlarge them.
So as not just a Catholic, but as a Christian, I have St. Michael to hold up as a champion and protector during such difficult times. But what about a physical representation?
Those are the saints. Real men and women in history who would tell you they were the greatest sinners, and many of them were, but who heard the voice of God and were led by him to accomplish great things or to inspire by their examples.
From the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read:
429. How does the Church nourish the moral life of a Christian? The Church is the community in which the Christian receives the Word of God, the teachings of the “law of Christ” (Gal 6:2), and the grace of the sacraments. Christians are united to the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ in such a way that their moral life is an act of spiritual worship; and they learn the example of holiness from the Virgin Mary and the lives of the Saints.
564. How are the saints guides for prayer? The saints are our models of prayer. We also ask them to intercede before the Holy Trinity for us and for the whole world. Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. In the communion of saints, throughout the history of the Church, there have developed different types of spiritualities that teach us how to live and to practice the way of prayer.
For my purposes today I’m not going to get into a lengthy explanation of the theology about the saints and Catholics. Perhaps another time, but for now I just wanted to point out that in them we see “examples of holiness” (#429) and “models of prayer” (#564). Yes, the saints recognized by the Catholic Church were in fact Catholic and as such are held up as role models to imitate or learn from in practicing our faith as Catholics. But that does not mean that only Catholics are holy men and women of God that are to teach us or inspire us to be better human beings. And here’s the original point of my post.
Over the past two weeks I have read a few stories about such men and women that I wanted to bring to your attention while using a poem I recently came across. I will be placing their photos within the piece itself, and have provided a link to each of their stories at the end of this blog. I hope you’ll read through one or more of them and take from their stories what I have: in the face of incredible odds one person can make a difference. And it is in making that difference, no matter how large or how small, that we can cause a ripple across the waters of humanity that inspires real change.
It is not just as a Catholic that I draw strength and affirmation from the following words, but as a member of the human race. I hope you do, too.
I Am A Warrior
I am a warrior.
I accept that life has challenges, that the road to success and mastery is strewn with the bodies of those who believed it would be easy, and did not prepare. I prepare. Every day I sharpen my mind and heart.
I know that fear is a constant companion for those who would live an authentic existence, free of comforting illusion. I make fear my friend, allowing it to empower me, to drive me toward my destiny. I put my love in front of me, my fear behind me, and run like hell.
I take responsibility for my actions and emotions, for my destiny. I know that I am the only one who can bring my dreams into reality, and have organized my mind and emotions so that every action is in alignment with my most deeply held values.
I know that action creates emotion, and resolve to take effective action toward my goals every single day, without fail. However small, I will take at least one single step to clarify my mind and heal my heart. I break my long-term goals into bits I can accomplish one step at a time. Always, I remember that the Way is in training–in constant, conscious action.
I have the honesty to know I cannot do it all alone. I commit to facing my death with grace and calm. A warrior is not, as some mistakenly think, merely someone willing to die for what they believe in. That could also be said of a martyr. A warrior is willing to destroy her own ego, day after day, to make room for the best and most authentic essence of her true Heart to emerge.
I have faith in a caring, living universe that sustains me, in God, in something larger and more enduring than my transitory physical existence. I will never be limited by my own flaws and failings: I have more. I have faith.
I confront my challenges and meet them head on if necessary, but never forget to be flexible and creative: I will go over, under, around and through. I’ll try new things. Try old things. Work harder, smarter, faster, better. Try early, try late. Give it everything I have, day after day when others have yielded to fatigue and doubt. And then I will work even harder and longer.
I teach the world by example. Every step, every breath, every word, every action represents me. I behave at all times as if my most honored teachers and beloved friends know my heart and see my actions. I commit at all times to being my very best. I also know that every day opens the door to the next level of action and challenge. Every ending is a new beginning. I commit to sharing what I have learned. I am a link in a chain of striving, caring, struggling human beings stretching back to the dawn of time, and forward to a brighter future.
Here and now, however short that time may be, I vow my heart to be the strongest link in that chain.
I will commit to nothing less.
I am a warrior.
(Adapted from poem by Steven Barnes)
Allow me to introduce you to a few warriors.