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Learning from the Saints
This year, follow the example and wisdom of the holy ones.


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LOPEZ: You converted to Catholicism. Did the saints play a role?

THIGPEN: An essential role. While working on my Ph.D. in historical theology, I read numerous texts by Catholic saints and blesseds from throughout Church history. Many of them became my teachers and mentors. In particular, the writings of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Ávila, and Blessed John Henry Newman transformed my understanding of Jesus Christ, the Christian faith, and God’s will for the Church. I found myself talking with them as I read their words — even though my particular Christian tradition at the time would have insisted that such conversations were impossible.

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I still recall the afternoon when I was reading St. Augustine’s essay against the Donatists, a group of his Christian contemporaries who had separated themselves from the Catholic Church because they thought the Church wasn’t “pure” enough. Reading point after point that he made in refutation of their position, I would say aloud, “That’s right! You tell ’em, Augustine!”

But eventually the reality hit me. Every point the saint made could also be argued against the Christians of my own tradition who had separated from the Catholic Church long ago because they thought it had lost its purity. I remember setting the book down on my desk, shaking my head, and saying (again aloud), “Oh, my goodness! I am a Donatist!”

It was just one of many insights from the saints that brought me into the full light of the Catholic faith.


LOPEZ: How did you go about collecting the daily meditations?

THIGPEN: The challenge was not finding them; my bookshelves are filled with writings of the saints. The great challenge — given that I was compiling a single book rather than a library — was in deciding which wonderful quotes and anecdotes of the saints I had to leave out for lack of space.

Perhaps the greatest initial challenge in selecting the meditations lay in deciding on a way to organize them. The books in this particular series each provide a year’s worth of meditations — 365 daily readings — but they aren’t tied to specific days or seasons in the Church calendar. I finally decided to organize them roughly according to the progression of topics in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. First, then, are meditations about the various aspects of the profession of faith, then the celebration of the Christian mystery, then life in Christ, and finally Christian prayer. 


LOPEZ: What’s so special about the sacraments and Mass? You include a lot of meditations about them.

THIGPEN: The sacraments, and the Eucharist in particular, are so familiar and so commonly available to most Catholics that it’s easy to take them for granted. As a convert, however, I can never take them for granted, because I know what’s it’s like to be without them. (I had been baptized as a child, but I had no idea what that sacrament had actually done for me.)

Once I was convinced that the Eucharist in the Catholic Church was the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, I knew that sooner or later, I had to enter the Church so that I could receive that unspeakable gift. Now that I’m home in the Church, I treasure all her sacraments as magnificent channels of grace into my life. I can’t imagine living without their unparalleled power and consolation.


LOPEZ: Were there meditations that were new to you in your research? Were there saints who were?

THIGPEN: Looking back over the list, I think the only saint represented in the book that I didn’t know about before I began my research was St. Lawrence Justinian. But there were a number of saints included that I had known little about, and it was a pleasure to delve into their lives and writings: in particular, saints Theophane, John Eudes, John Ruysbroeck, Katharine Drexel, Maximus of Turin, Andrew of Crete, Bernardine of Siena, and Peter of Alcántara.

 



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