You may notice in the background of several of my photos yesterday and today a young woman who often is playing the piano, violin, or conducting. Her name is Meg, and she has been my hostess for these last few days. She and I lived together in a Christian Community on the campus of THE Catholic University of America which went by the name of "The House."
As I walked into my first church (of three) today, St. Stanislaus, which is in a depressed neighborhood in Cleveland known as Slavic Village, I was overwhelmed with the number of relics and images of saints (either in two dimensional or three dimensional representation. Please make sure you have downloaded Google Earth to view my meage attempts to capture a sense of what this beautiful parish looks like and then by click here to view the photos.. While there, I began to ask my self why Catholics have all these saints and my thoughts wondered to the very first class that Meg and I shared in college together. It was a philosophy class taught by Dr. McCarthy. He asked us to name our Heroes.
We rarely stop to think about the nature and importance of heroes. They shape our lives by their very presence. We try to emulate them. They push us to be the very best that we can be. Saints are really heroes, and our commemoration of them in Churches is equivalent to the ways we commemorate secular heroes whether, sports heroes, statesmen, warriors, or others. If saints are not understood of as heroes, then the warnings of many a Protestant writer becomes fact, saints become "false idols," replacing the role of God.
St. Stanislaus parish is full of representation of saints, and they are all heroes. Heroes such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, the only saint statue in the parish that has glasses. He gave his life in a concentration camp in Nazi controlled Poland. Of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Polish Black Madonna who protected the city of Czestochowa. An invader sliced the image twice, and as he was preparing to slice the image a third time was rendered futile. Of course, there are representations of Jesus Christ… he's a hero too.
Today was clearly about heroes. The statues were the first of many I would think about today. I made contact with Annie McNellis today, a young woman who was a part of my parish these last seven years and whom I hope to see tomorrow morning. She is here in Cleveland participating in a program known as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. This has grown in popularity in recent years and well it should. Young men and women give a year, and sometimes two, of their life to help those in need. The live together in Christian community, sharing expenses, meals, living, and prayer all while volunteering to work for social justice initiatives. You can find out more about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps by clicking here. I would have to say that Annie is a heroine of mine for having the courage to be a part of the Jesuit Volunteers, as well as her community mates who join her at the house.
Which brings me back to my days of living in community back at THE Catholic University of America with Meg. I reminisce, but those days, shared with 7 colleagues, were special, transformative. We shared everything in common. (Acts 2 gives a sense of our unwritten constitution.) Every one gave what they could and took what they needed. There was a common respect and admiration for the gifts of each member of the community. We treated each other as if each person had something that inspired us about them, and indeed to this day, every member of that community does. Especially, the last few days, I have been blessed to walk once again walk in presence of one of those heroes, Meg.
Today Meg played music for 3 Masses, and went with me to another Mass and morning prayer before the sun even rose. She brought me to the wedding she played at St. Monica's which you can see by clicking here. I documented this wedding as best I could because it is a great example of the life of the church. First of all, Meg is far more talented as a musician than I. Her dedication is inspirational to me. She and I both began working professionally for the church 7 years ago. She is part of a growing number of men and women in the United States who feel called to work for the Church, and have the same discipline and practice as workers in the Church have had for centuries, but they/we do not take religious vows to a Church governed community. Some have called the choice made by lay men and women like Meg, "the modern day religious" because the work she and others do, is similar to the work nuns and monks have done for centuries. For me, it is inspirational.
And I guess that is the point of today. I find that surrounded by heroes in my life. Living and deceased, I am surrounded by people who inspire me. Heroes are not limited to the chosen few who have passed away and now occupy the towering walls of churches. They do not have be represented in stain glass or oil canvas. When those with whom we walk and with whom we share time challenge us to be the best possible version of who we can be, then we are walking with our heroes. In a way, I think that is what it means to be Christian, to be able to see that everyone you walk with, younger or older, is a hero. I am blessed that today I walked with one of my greatest heroes, Meg.
Oh! Thank you Dr. McCarthy for getting me to think about heroes. I always knew something special would come out of your class.