Only the Good Die Young (Young Saints in the History of the Church)
St. John Berchmans wrote “If I do not become a Saint when I am young, I shall never become one”. This is something he believed and lived in his life. This was not just a matter of him performing pious acts alone. His life of faith was lived out through heroic virtue. This is not simply a matter of him living virtuously, as all baptized Catholics are called to do. This was him ensuring that his will was found entirely below the will of God. To show His deep love for Lord, he would ensure he took every opportunity to place His will below his superiors. He gladly accepted things asked of him out of obedience. As a child, he was found to have contagious joy, and dealt with his friends in the most caring and humble ways. His mother became quite ill at the age of nine, and he stayed by her bedside, assisting her in her illness joyfully. He knew that the simple things in life were fleeting, and so, from the age of seven, he rose from bed early to go and serve at least two masses with great love. He would attend pilgrimages, recite the stations of the cross barefoot, and even walked from Diest in Brabant to Rome barefooted to study philosophy. He was known to say “My penance is to live the common life… I will pay the greatest attention to the least inspiration of God.” Upon almost completing his studies in philosophy, he was seized with a great fever and died on August 13th, 1621 at the age of 22.
Why do I share this story? Because the Church takes great joy in raising the names of these young men and women to the order of Saints whenever she is given the opportunity. The Saints are a large part of my love for the faith. I am a Secular Discalced Carmelite. What drew me to that order? It was St. Therese of Lisieux, who died at the age of 24, due to Tuberculosis. It was Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity who died at 26, St. Teresa of the Andes (died at age 19). The young Saints are and have been my inspiration from a very young age.
I recall my first encounter with a very young Saint was shortly after I had my conversion experience. I traveled with my family to Washington DC to bring my mom to see a medical specialist there. While we were sitting in the restaurant of the hotel we were staying in, I looked over to see a women in a booth reading a little blue book. I realized she was reading “The Pieta Prayerbook”. Being the Catholic keener of a 13 year old that I was, I went and sat down at her table, as she was by herself. After getting to know each other briefly, she began telling us of all the places that were awesome to visit in DC, including the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan Monastery- the “Holy Land of America”. And so, we found ourselves visiting this amazing monastery.
Being the only hardcore Catholic in my school was tough, and even in my parish, I was the only kid who could definitively say they loved the Catholic faith and could basically articulate it. I was easily discouraged at that point in my walk with Christ, because I felt alone in it. In that monastery, one of the most inspiring things for me, that I still remember to this day was kneeling down in front of what looked like a glass casket. Inside was a model body, with his preserved hands and feet exposed. This was the relic of a child martyr of the faith named St. Innocent. The only thing we really know about this martyr was that he died at the hands of the Romans for his faith in Jesus Christ. For me, this was an intense moment. As I returned home, and continued living my faith among my friends and family, especially in those moments of persecution for my faith, I could look back upon this moment where I saw the relics of this kid, much younger than I was, who was unashamed for his faith in Jesus Christ and recall that I was not alone.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
As Catholics, we believe in the Communion of Saints- the great cloud of witnesses that spurs us on in the fight, and gives us example for how we are to live our faith in our lives. This encounter with the child-martyr St. Innocent was for me like seeing one person from the cloud of men and women who have fought the face and won the crown of victory.
The Church has and always will take great pride in raising these “little ones” to the rank of the Saints. The truth is, Sainthood is different for these kids than it is for say those who jumped in part way through their lives. People like Blessed Imelda began their lives of heroic virtue early on, by their own free will. Many of there parents have fallen into relative obscurity, not necessarily because they were not holy, but because their children began seeking sanctity at an early age and did it heroically.
Many of our readers are young, either in their teens, twenty-somethings or young adulthood. But how many of us take this call to sanctity seriously. Lent is a very good time for us to figure out where we are in our walks with Jesus Christ. We can see our strengths and our weaknesses. It is a time for us to repent of our old ways, and turn to Jesus through prayer, fasting. and almsgiving. Perhaps we can look at ourselves, especially we who are young, and see “in what ways do I love myself more than Jesus”, and start making little sacrifices for his honor. Let’s start trying to live lives of heroic virtue. It is not enough for us to be nice, good people. We must become Saints- straight up. In imitation of these Saints, especially the young ones, let us “lay aside every weight and sin that clings” to us, and “run so as to win“.
In the Immaculata,
PS: I have included below a list of young Saints and Blesseds. This list is far from complete, but is a small start. I will be compiling a list and including it in our Saints area in our resource section.
St. John Berchmans
St. Therese of Lisieux,
St. Aloysius Gonzaga
St. Charles Borromeo
St. Dominic Savio
Bl. Jacinta and Francesco Marto
St. Joan of Arc
Bl. Pier Georgio Frassati
St. Maria Goretti
St. Stanislaus Kostka
St. John de Gato
St. Gemma Galgani
St. Teresa of Jesus of the Andes
St. Perpetua and Felicity
Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows
Saint John Berchmans
Saint Pedro Calungsod
Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity
St. Germaine Cousin
Saint Keteri Tekakwitha
Bl. Laura Vicuna
Bl. Maria Gabriella
Saint Mary Ann de Paredes
Saint Charles Lwanga
Saint Gabriel Gowdel
Saint Gerald Majella
Saint Pancras of Rome
Saint Eulalia of Merida