Celebrating {Black History Month} with the Saints

I know things have been quiet around here lately. I’ve actually been thinking of y’all a lot, thinking of this space, but my heart is heavy. Given the gravity of current events here in the United States, I’ve felt unsure of my voice and my role in our national narrative. Writing about homeschooling or liturgical living has felt, at best, insignificant and, at worst, insensitive.

But this is not a political blog; I am not a political blogger. I have tried to keep this an uplifting space dedicated to the messy, marvelous work of motherhood in a modern age that tends to undervalue moms. I have tried to make this a safe place where women of faith, compassion, and integrity may learn together and uplift one another in the sacred vocation of raising human beings.

So today, I want to speak light into darkness. I think–I truly believe that the way we come to love each other is to know each other deeper, to look long into each other’s eyes and read the hand of God on the histories of each other’s lives.

During the month of February, the United States celebrates Black History Month–and I can’t think of a better moment to look back and remember the courage, conviction, beauty, dignity, and strength of our black brothers and sisters. As Catholics, one of the ways our family celebrates is by studying some of the incredible Black saints who lived the gospel with boldness and love.

St. Simon of Cyrene

If you’ve ever read the Passion narrative, you will recall St. Simon. When Jesus was exhausted with the carrying of his cross, it was Simon who was pulled from the crowd to help him bear the weight. It is traditionally understood that St. Simon was singled out for this unpleasant task because of his skin color–and he wasn’t happy about it. But in uniting himself with the suffering Christ, this unwilling saint came in contact with extraordinary grace. He became a passionate Christian, and his two sons both became missionaries.

St. Simon of Cyrene, help us to be willing sufferers, always ready to carry our Cross with Christ at our side. Pray for us, that we may be bold witnesses to the redemptive nature of suffering and that we may never fail to stand in solidarity with those who are exhausted and in pain. Amen.

St. Simon of Cyrene has no dedicated feast day in the Church calendar; Black History Month is a perfect time to celebrate his incredible life.

St. Josephine Bakhita

Born in 1869 in the Darfur region of Sudan, St. Josephine Margaret Bakhita lived a profoundly inspirational life. As a young child, she was sold into slavery, then resold many times over the course of more than a decade. During this period, she endured many horrors, from being beaten near to death for offending her master’s son to being sliced with a knife by her master’s wife who then rubbed salt into the open wounds. Eventually, Josephine was sold to an Italian who treated her with surprising kindness; when he returned to Italy from Turkey, she begged to go with him, and he agreed.

In Italy, Josephine became nanny for yet another family, to whom she was presented as a gift. This family, understanding the agonies she had endured, decided not to take her back to Sudan with them when they were required to travel on business. Instead, they placed her in a convent under the supervision of the Canossian Sisters, who shared with Josephine the love and knowledge of God.

When her master’s family returned, Josephine refused to leave the convent. The sisters pleaded her case in court, and at long last, St. Josephine was freed. For the first time, she could choose exactly what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go. Josephine chose to stay with her sisters. She was baptized into the church and later joined the order of the Canossian Sisters of Charity. For 42 years, she worked as the cook and doorkeeper of the convent, welcoming guests into the place she had claimed as home. She was known throughout her long life for her gentle voice and her brilliant smile.

St. Josephine Bakhita, you know what it is to be without choice. Help me to surrender my own life in to God’s hands, that I may live fully into the story he has written for my life. When I have born cruelty, help me to grant forgiveness. When I have known despair, help me choose hope. When life has been unkind, let me be known as you were, as a woman of kind words who radiates the joy of Christ. Amen.

St. Josephine’s feast day is celebrated on February 8th.

St. Moses of Egypt

St. Moses’ life didn’t start out saintly. He was the servant of an Egyptian official, and he was dismissed from service for theft and suspected murder. He became the leader of a bandit gang, and roamed the Nile valley spreading fear and violence. Things changed when Moses, fleeing punishment for theft and sheep slaughter, hid with some monks near Alexandria. Their peaceful lives moved Moses deeply, and he abandoned his former life to become a Christian and join the monastic community. Later, he would be ordained a priest.

Moses never quite shook off his rebellious nature, and he became frustrated with what he saw as his personal failure in achieving sanctity. His wise abbot, St. Isidore, reminded him that sanctity takes time, but that nothing is impossible for God. Moses lived a long life and became known as a beacon of mercy, hospitality, humility, and peace.

St. Moses, you understand the power of temptation. When emotions run high and anger claims us, help us to turn to God and choose peace. When we see the erring ways of those around us, help us to focus on our own faults and to choose mercy. By your prayers, may we have the courage to welcome strangers, even when we face criticism or fear. Help us to remember that life is an adventure to be lived for God’s glory. Amen.

St. Moses’s feast day is celebrated on August 28th in the Western Church and on July 1 in the Eastern Rite.

Sts. Monica and Augustine of Hippo

St. Monica was born in Algeria and is traditionally thought to have been a Berber, an African of Black- and Arabic-descent. She married a Roman official who did not share her Christian faith, but he is said to have respected them. Monica was a powerful prayer warrior. She pleaded with God, in particular, that He would touch the hearts of her children, that He might lead them to salvation.

Eventually, Monica’s prayers brought about the conversion of her husband and mother-in-law. Two of her children entered the religious life, but her third child, Augustine, was a hopeless reprobate. He was lazy, irreverent, known for bouts of violence and womanizing. Monica’s relationship with her son became so strained that one night, after he had denounced her faith at dinner, she threw him out of the house. Some time after this, Monica had a vision: it would become her life’s mission to reconcile with her wayward son.

Monica pursued Augustine first to Rome and later Milan, where it was said he had gone. In Milan, she met St. Ambrose, the bishop whose famous preaching would be instrumental in converting Augustine to Christianity. At last, mother and son were reunited. They spent six beautiful months together, after which time, Augustine was baptized. Africa called them home, but on the way, Monica became ill and died. Augustine sold all his property and gave the proceeds to the poor. He was ordained a priest and became the bishop of Hippo, Algeria. He would become one of three African Doctors of the Church.

St. Monica, I know that you are a powerful intercessor. Please join your prayers with mine for the conversion of my loved ones who have not known the peace, joy, and love of Christ. Help me to be patient and loving always. Where relationships have fractured, help me to relentlessly pursue reconciliation. May the prayers of your son, St. Augustine, touch the hearts of all the lost that they may discover the saving way of Life. Amen.

Saint Monica’s feast day is celebrated on August 27, Augustine’s on August 28th in the West and June 15th in the Eastern Rite.

St. Charles Lwanga

Toward the end of the 19th century, there was a small but vibrant community of Catholic in Uganda. Unfortunately, Mwanga, the king of Uganda, was a violent man who disliked Christians. Unbeknownst to Mwanga, his head steward, Joseph, was the leader of these Christians. When Joseph was discovered, Mwanga ordered him to be beheaded. In response to his death sentence, Joseph bravely proclaimed, “A Christian who gives his life for God is not afraid to die.” These words would inspire St. Charles Lwanga when he later faced his own martyrdom.

After Joseph’s death, Charles took over the catechesis of Christians at Mwanga’s court. He was also responsible for protecting the young boys who served the king as pages, and who were frequently the victims of Mwanga’s sexual assaults. One day, angry that a page boy had been too busy for him, Mwanga interrogated him and learned of the Christian community. The king called his whole court, separated out the Christians, and sentenced them to death.

The 15 boys and men who had identified themselves as Christian were sent on 37 mile trek to their place of execution. Three were killed on the road, but their peace, joy, and courage was evident to all and struck fear and awe into the hearts of many observers. Other Christian martyrs, both Catholic and Protestant, joined Charles and his companions at Namugongo, where they were burned. They died, praising the name of Jesus and are recorded as saying, “You can burn our bodies, but you cannot harm our souls.”

Martyrs of Uganda, pray for the faith where it is danger and for Christians who must suffer because of their faith. Give them the same courage, zeal, and joy you showed. And help those of us who live in places where Christianity is accepted to remain aware of the persecution in other parts of the world. Amen.

St. Charles Lwanga and his companions are remembered on June 3rd.

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