Stories of the Saints
Joyce Denham and Judy Stevens
I grew up in a church that didn’t talk much about the saints, nor did we mark All Saints’ Day in the church year. And to be honest, I still have some reservations about how saints are sometimes celebrated – especially when they are portrayed as fundamentally different from ordinary Christians rather than fellow sinner-pilgrims. But it remains true that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and that God has worked mightily in the lives of men and women who have gone before us. We do well to mark their lives, learn from them, and honor them. Our church is having an All Saints Day family celebration this year, and to prepare for it, I’ll be reading to my daughter from Stories of the Saints.
This collection of short narratives is divided into three sections: “God With Us” (Mary the Mother of Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter, and Mary Magdalene); “A New Kingdom” (Stephen and Paul); and “The Light Shines in the Darkness” (8 early medieval and medieval saints, such as Martin of Tours, Francis of Assisi, and Bridget of Sweden). Each life is sketched briefly and vividly, capturing the drama, bravery, suffering and faithful love that marked these men and women. I especially appreciated how each life is described as significant for the church – because, after all, we don’t celebrate these folks for living good, pious lives. We celebrate them because they have been used by God to encourage and grow his people.
Six of the fourteen stories are about women, and what women these are! “Mary, in humble obedience, mothered her own maker and held in her arms the one who holds the universe.” Elizabeth of Portugal stood between two warring armies (one led by her son!) and challenged them to lay down their arms. And Bridget spoke the truth daily for years as a lady-in-waiting to a foolish king and his haughty wife. My favorite story, though, is about man: Laurence, who was martyred in Rome, in the third century. I first heard his story in Rome, and have had a picture of him on my refrigerator ever since: he’s the patron saint of cooks, because he himself was killed on a gridiron. The story of how he stood up to the Roman prefect is worth the price of the volume alone.
Readers whose churches don’t speak much about church history will nevertheless find this an accessible collection. There is a brief mention, in the postscript, about Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata (miraculous wounds that are similar to Jesus’); those who find that troubling can easily skip it. It is, of course, a tradition within Roman Catholicism, and can simply be explained as such to older children. Overall, though, this is a collection that provides great material for conversation with our children about what it means to live godly lives, how to honor those who have gone before us, and how God uses the people he calls to grow his church.