Patron saints have been a tradition in the Church since the earliest days of Christianity. The Church believes that those souls who have achieved perfection, whether on earth or in purgatory, and so reside in the Heavenly Kingdom make up the communion of the saints.
It is the tradition that these blessed souls surround the throne of God and join the angelic choirs in praising His glory and majesty, but also take on the crucial role of interceding before that same throne for the Church Militant on earth which is striving toward the same goal of heavenly perfection and entrance into the Kingdom. This is where we hear about “patron saints” of this or that; St. Francis of Assisi is the patron of ecologists, for example, and St. Cecilia is patron of music and musicians. At Confirmation, the candidate chooses a saint whose name they take and who they trust will pray for them as they strive to configure their own life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross, growing in charity and ever attaining a new and deeper love for God. At my Confirmation, I chose St. Patrick.
But the communion of saints isn’t a one way street; just because we don’t know them or have never heard of them doesn’t mean they don’t know us and aren’t praying for us. One winter day around this time of year at a Monday night floor meeting during my first year at St. John Vianney Seminary, a group of seniors who had just returned from their Rome semester passed out holy cards with this image of the man who’d been our floor patron all year, and whose picture next to the elevator I’d passed everyday since September but never really looked at:
This is St. Claude la Colombiere (1641-1682), a French Jesuit who is best known for being the spiritual director to the much more well known St. Margaret Mary Alocoque, to whom Jesus revealed his Sacred Heart through a series of apparitions in the French town of Paray-le-Monial.
The absolute best moments in the spiritual life are those that are completely unexpected, those little (or big) graces from Jesus that come as total surprises. When I was handed St. Claude’s holy card for the first time, I instantly felt the power of the Holy Spirit and felt a bond with this holy priest-turned-saint; in this picture, he has one of those classic French grins…half-sincere, half-taunting. As I prayed more with this picture and with some writings of St. Claude, it was as if he was saying to me, “I know something you don’t know….but I want to tell you about it.”
And through prayer, and a lot of time, he did tell me about it. During his life and especially after his canonization, Claude was known as the Apostle of the Sacred Heart. Since St. Margaret Mary was cloistered, it was up to St. Claude to spread the message of the fountain of mercy, love, and unconditional forgiveness found in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart for me has served as a portal, a “point of entry” if you want, into the divine life and into an intimate union with the Trinity. Any progress I have made in my life, spiritually or otherwise, I attribute to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the intercession of my friend, St. Claude la Colombiere.
In many of his writings, St. Claude refers to Jesus as his “most intimate friend” and, in fact, “the only true friend.” This is the Jesus that I have come to know – the Jesus who is certainly King of kings and Lord of lords, but who is also my most intimate companion, my own best friend.
St. Claude la Colombiere: Apostle of the Sacred Heart, spiritual companion, friend, and doppelganger, thank you. St. Claude, pray for us.
“O loving God, how wonderful it would be if some day thou shouldst use my weakness to withdraw a soul from sin! If all that is required is my will, I give it to thee with all my heart…Make me holy, O my God, and do not spare me in the making, for I want to become a saint whatever it costs.” – St. Claude la Colombiere
I had the chance to travel to Paray-le-Monial in December 2013:
“Above all things I am resigned to be sanctified by the way that God shall please, by the absence of all sensible delight, if He wishes it so to be, by interior trials, by continual combat with my passions.”
For lots of information about saints and what Catholics believe about them, click here.