Saints to pray to, now that the election is over

Saints to pray to, now that the election is over
Prayers for the country A woman prays at Vineland’s Sacred Heart Church on Election Day. The Vineland Catholic Collaborative (Christ the Good Shepherd, Divine Mercy and Saint Padre Pio) held a day of prayer with the rosary, adoration, benediction and other devotions. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Prayers for the country
A woman prays at Vineland’s Sacred Heart Church on Election Day. The Vineland Catholic Collaborative (Christ the Good Shepherd, Divine Mercy and Saint Padre Pio) held a day of prayer with the rosary, adoration, benediction and other devotions.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

After an incredibly intense and divisive political season, it is left to Americans now to forge a path forward that remains committed to reconciliation and the healing of wounds, always in view of the vocation of every Christian to stand prophetically against unconscionable evil and the dehumanization of any person at any stage of life. Regardless of one’s political leanings (for no party perfectly embodies the Catholic vision of the world), and whether one is personally enthusiastic or apprehensive about the next era of American life, it seems an opportune moment to pray for the intercession of Saint Donald and Saint Hilary of Poitiers to guide our nation through the turbulent seas of presidential transition.

On this side of eternity, every person can move closer to holiness, and this includes our president-elect, our congressional and judicial officials, and a fortiori the author of this column, who on a daily basis searingly self-examines his own role as a theologian engaged in the public square.

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, a Doctor of the Church, was an early bishop in central France. He was raised as a pagan, but eventually came to devote his classical education to doctrinal matters, a biography mirroring in some ways the more famous Augustine in later decades. Hilary was married with a daughter before the community urged him to take on the role of bishop. The name Hilary, obviously related to the English word “hilarious,” comes from the root word for “cheerful, merry or gracious.”

Like Saint Athanasius, the bulk of Saint Hilary’s theological contribution surrounded the Arian controversy. An incredibly widespread heresy in the patristic era, Arius taught that Christ was not in fact “co-eternal” and “consubstantial” with the Father, but was rather the highest and first creature fashioned by the pre-existing Father. Thus, Arius’ numerous followers had a memorable slogan which can be roughly translated as “there was a time when he [Christ] was not.”

In this line of thinking, only the Father was truly divine and there was a period of time (maybe only an instant) when the Father existed without the Son yet being fashioned.

Athanasius and Hilary combated this distortion of Christian teaching, both arguing that the Scriptures made clear that Christ was divine and through him all things were made. Christians do not worship a creature, even a very exalted one, for that would be the height of idolatry. Instead, Christ, the Word and Image of the Father, shared the divine essence of the Trinitarian Godhead before, during, and after creation. So in revering him, Christians revere the triune One who creates, redeems and sanctifies all that exists, the One who became incarnated into the material world, the One who truly is “God-with-us.”

Saint Donald, the lesser-known namesake of our president-elect, was a family man in Forfarshire, in Eastern Scotland, not far from Saint Andrew’s. He lived centuries after Hilary, dying around the year 716. When Donald’s wife died, he and his nine daughters lived a life of asceticism and common prayer, reportedly subsisting on meager rations of bread and water as witness to the Kingdom of God radically experienced in the love of Lady Poverty. After their father’s death, these “nine maidens” moved into the monastery founded by Saint Brigid and Saint Darlugdach. In Scotland, both the name Donald and a tradition naming groupings of nine occurring in nature (say trees in orchard) after the maidens are still common.

In this time of new governance and fractured national unity, let us invoke the prayers of Saint Hilary of Poitiers and Saint Donald of Ogilvy, whose clarion calls to teach the truth and act with moderation can inspire us to live with authenticity in our personal and political lives, where our daily actions and claims of Christian belief should always resonate with one another and reflect lives of service to the most voiceless.

Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D. teaches at Loyola University. Chicago.

Categories: Columns, Growing in Faith

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