Actually, there aren’t many saints who have had predictable and untroubled lives. These holy men and women certainly didn’t.
At a time when every week seems to present a new (and often devastating) development, derailing our plans and leaving many of us feeling overwhelmed and out of control, it helps to realize that few of the saints have lived predictable, peaceful, untroubled lives. In fact, many had phases where they, too, felt that their lives were completely out of control. For some, it was a season to persevere through; for others, it was the occasion of their holiness. As we seek to trust God, may the witness of these Saints reassure us that God can work this, too, for good (cf Romans 8:28).Sts. Eustace and Theopista (d. 118) were a Roman couple who converted along with their two sons (Sts. Agapius and Theopistus). While the family was traveling to Jerusalem, Theopista was abducted. When Eustace left one child on shore to carry the other across a river, he saw a lion drag one child away and a wolf take the other. Disconsolate, Eustace eventually returned to the army. One day, two of his soldiers began to talk and realized they were brothers. A woman overheard and discovered that she was their mother. When she told the commander, she recognized her husband and the whole family was reunited. But when they returned in triumph from a war Eustace had won, the emperor demanded that they offer sacrifice to a pagan god and the family was martyred together.
St. Lorenzo Ruiz (1594-1637) lived an ordinary life as a calligrapher in Manila. But when he was accused of murder, Lorenzo knew that his innocence didn’t matter; as a Filipino-Chinese man, he would always lose against the word of a Spaniard. He decided to flee, boarding a ship he thought was bound for Chinese Macao. But the ship went to Okinawa instead, where Lorenzo and his Dominican companions were arrested almost immediately. Though he hadn’t planned to be a martyr (or even a missionary), Lorenzo was ultimately able to accept the disastrous change of plans thrust upon him. He was martyred, saying, “Even if I had a thousand lives, I would offer them all to God.”
Venerable Cornelia Connelly (1809-1879) was married to an Episcopal priest when the two decided to convert to Catholicism. Not long after the couple’s infant daughter and toddler son died, Pierce announced that he would be separating from his pregnant wife to pursue ordination. Feeling she had no choice, Cornelia took a vow of chastity, sending their children to boarding school. She later founded a religious order and sought joy in the midst of her very broken life. Then Pierce reappeared and demanded that she return to him. When Cornelia refused, he sued her for conjugal rights; after losing on appeal, Pierce kidnapped Cornelia’s children and turned them against her and the Church. She was ultimately reconciled with only one. Asked once why she wasn’t miserable, Cornelia replied with a smile, “Ah, my child, the tears are always running down the back of my nose.” Cornelia grieved her suffering deeply but chose to live in the joy of the risen Christ.
St. Mariam Baouardy (1846-1878) was the 13th child born to her Palestinian parents and the first to survive. Orphaned at two, Mariam later moved to Egypt with her guardians, an uncle and his wife. She was betrothed at 13, but when she explained her call to religious life her uncle beat her severely. When she sought help, the messenger she employed attempted to seduce her and coerce her to convert to Islam, cutting her throat and throwing her in an alley when she refused. Mariam was miraculously cared for by a mysterious “nun dressed in blue,” worked as a domestic servant, was inexplicably blind for 40 days, entered a religious community, received the stigmata, was kicked out of that community, entered a Carmel in India, founded a Carmel in Bethlehem, had a mystical vision that identified the site of Emmaus, and died—all before turning 33.
Bl. Paul Thoj Xyooj (1941-1960, pronounced Tao Shiong) was a Hmong convert, a former seminarian, and a tremendously successful missionary to a Hmong village in Laos when the religious in charge of the mission became suspicious of this teenaged boy who was making so many converts. Certain that he must be watering down the faith or engaging in untoward behavior, they pulled him from the mission field, forbidding him even from contacting the young woman he had hoped to propose to. Back at home, he felt lost; he had been betrayed by leaders of the Church he had given his life to and wasn’t sure that he could continue to work as a catechist. Perhaps he would get a job as a police officer, the better to support the family he hoped to start if he could ever find another woman he wanted to marry. In the midst of this frustration, betrayal, and uncertainty came an invitation from Bl. Mario Borzaga to join him on another mission. Xyooj went and was killed by communist insurgents when he refused to abandon Fr. Borzaga.