Saints of the Month – May

We’re in the thick of the season of Easter, getting ready for Pentecost, and my liturgical planner is quite empty this month. Nevertheless, the calendar of the Church is full of interesting people to get to know, whether you celebrate their feasts, invoke their intercession or merely look up to the good deeds that defined their lives.

May 2nd – St Athanasius
One of the Doctors of the Church, he is mostly known for his role in addressing the Arian heresy. Due to his powerful defence of the true nature of Christ, he is remembered as a hero of the faith in the Orthodox Church too. He’s the patron saint of theologians, and truly a saint for our times.

May 3rd – Ss Timothy and Martha
Namesakes of two well known Biblical people, they were newly-weds from Antinoe (modern-day Egypt) who were martyred together by being nailed to a wall for nine days during which they gave encouragement to each other. Call me sentimental, but what an example of love for each other and for the Lord.

May 4th – The English Martyrs
Technically 40 martyrs of England and Wales, they all have their individual feasts but they are also remembered as a collective for a reason I don’t really know. Personally, it makes it all the more striking that they (in fact, almost 350 known people) were all martyred over the course of little more than a century for the preservation of the Catholic faith in Britain. These are the people who brought me back to the Church in what is possibly the most ironic of conversions stories.

May 8th – Saint Magdalene of Canossa
A wealthy Northern Italian woman, almost contemporary of St Juliet Biliart, who thought the rule of the cloistered Carmelite was getting in the way of her desire to freely serve the poor and needy. She welcomed them in her home, ended up opening a school, more women joined her mission and so a new order was born, which to this day educates girls. In an age of greed, saints like her from a wealthy background are a good reminder that we have a duty of stewardship of what we are gifted, and it is not unachievable to detach ourselves from the material: we don’t need to be literally poor to be poor in spirit.

May 10th – St John of Avila
The spiritual advisor to St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross among others, enough said. Ok, ok, he was a really charismatic and popular preacher in Andalusia, who like many others had a run in with the authorities before being cleared of all faults (clearly). I believe he was an instrumental figure in the reforms sweeping Spain at the time, especially since he was deeply involved with the reformers themselves.

May 13th – St Julian of Norwich and Our Lady of Fatima
The apparition at Fatima is rather self-explanatory (perhaps I should do a write-up of the various apparitions later in the month, as it is the month of Mary after all) but if you want to read more about it without being sucked up into the conspiracy rabbit hole this is a good place.
St Julian of Norwich was a late medieval Benedictine mystic who lived in reclusion in the church of St Julian and had sixteen revelations, which were then written in one of the classics of the faith.

May 15th – St Dymphna
The patron saint of those suffering with mental health issues, she was the daughter of an Irish pagan father and devout Christian mother in the 7th century. She consecrated herself to Christ at 14 and then she died at 15 at the hand of her father who had lost his mind and wanted to marry her.

May 20th – St Bernardine of Siena
I don’t know what’s about Siena, I’m not even from there so you can’t say it’s like a local devotion or something, but two of my favourite saints come from there and probably drank holy water or something. He was a Franciscan preacher, who had such a Christocentric devotion (especially to the Holy Name of Jesus) that he once wrote of how saddened he was to see people entering churches and heading to kiss statues of saints before they even gave a thought to Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. A man after my own heart.

May 22nd – St Rita of Cascia
A widowed Augustinian nun from (once again) Medieval Italy, she is the patron saint of hopeless causes as well as one of a limited number of saints who had a stigma, in her case of the crown of thorns. She received it in a period of chronic illness she united with the Lord’s suffering, together with visions.

May 25th – St Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi
A Discalced Carmelite from a powerful Florentine family, she was a healer and mystic. She is alleged to have been able to read people’s minds, and had been performing miracles of healing. During her life, after becoming seriously ill, she both had ecstasies and 5 long years of spiritual depression. Her spiritual revelations were recorded and she was canonised not too many decades after her death.

May 26th – St Philip Neri
The founder of the, you guessed it, Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri (yes, THAT Oratory). He was a man of great humility and sense of humour who took his faith seriously and himself lightly. Many (including myself) think he would scandalise all the usual suspects if he was alive today, and likely he did scandalise their predecessors. He was a keen evangelist, whose personal charisma was to help people look at things differently. Whatever he did, and he did many things (including as a lay man before ordination), he did it joyfully. I’m sorry, I love the guy, and the only fault I can find in him is that he didn’t really leave a spiritual provision for women. Are we all to become Dominicans?

May 27th – St Augustine of Canterbury
A missionary to England, he was very successful among the pagans (building churches in many places where pagan temples had stood, none less than in Canterbury) but less so among his fellow Christians, who had gone a bit astray and he failed to reconcile with Rome. Another saint for our times if you ask me.

May 30th – St Joan of Arc
One of a few saints popular even in secular culture, she is the most likely candidate that 11 years old me would have picked for confirmation saint had that been in use in my diocese at the time. She was determined to her own detriment, fully emboldened by the Holy Spirit, and as a peasant girl ended up leading an army. A great role model for young Catholic feminists who don’t fit the mould of quiet and gracious little ladies (my mother has for years nicknamed me Taz -the Tasmanian Devil- after the cartoon character…).

In 2019, the month will end with the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord on the 30th and The Visitations of the Blessed Vergin Mary on the 31st. Alas, only the former is a solemnity, so we don’t get a meat Friday, but a good day to visit your pregnant friends with a simple cake after Mass.

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