I first realised that saints aren’t timid, passive people forever poised in prayer when I read a news item about the opening of the Cause of Sister Blandina Segale. Here was a woman who had taken on the Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid. She was a true “badass”.
There was a time when I didn’t call on the saints for anything. Not intercessory prayer. Not companionship. Not even to have them listen to my wild ramblings in moments of need.
It took me a long time to realise that I could befriend the saints, that I could count them among my most trusted confidants, and look to them as models of virtue and holiness. Through my fascination with Sister Blandina’s life when she settled in the West in the late 19th century, I discovered just how fearless saints are formed – not in darkened rooms filled with incense, but in the world courageously doing God’s work.
Sister Blandina caught my attention, and my imagination, because she encountered lynch mobs and was unmoved by their ferocity. She faced Billy the Kid and dissuaded him from causing more bloodshed. Instead of distancing herself from the violence, Sister Blandina worked to instill a sense of mercy in both the sinners and their victims. Her story is as badass as they come.
Although Sister Blandina gets attention for her encounters with Billy the Kid, it is actually her work founding hospitals and schools that defines her as a saint. She made great sacrifices to provide aid to the Mexican and Native American people marginalised in their communities.
The Communion of Saints is filled with stories of extraordinary men and women who rise to the heroic moments that ultimately distinguish them as saints. Once I grasped that the saints all had this one thing in common, a fearless commitment to the “yes” that they had given the Lord and the courage to follow God’s plan for their entire lives, it changed how I saw them.
I didn’t just want to know more about the saints; I wanted to be their friend. I wanted to engage in a prayerful relationship with these men and women who could show me how to live my life courageously, as they had done.
What I didn’t expect was that I would write a book that would become a small pilgrimage for me. As I researched the brave women who would be featured in My Badass Book of Saints, I discovered the saints’ pull on my heart. These women were extraordinary in how their courage manifested itself in their personal circumstances. We all have messy situations in our lives. Rather than become too discouraged, I now strive to handle my challenges with the heroic confidence of the saints.
I discovered the courageous integrity of women such as St Teresa of Avila and St Catherine of Siena, who stood up to authority figures in order to effect change, whether by clashing with local bishops or extending a hand of influence to popes.
I saw strength in battle through women such as St Joan of Arc and St Margaret of Antioch, the former leading armies and the latter slaying a dragon. These are saints who had real badass qualities that encouraged them to oppose the powerful and fight physical battles.
Courage, however, can also be displayed in quieter and more subtle ways. It is no less impressive to observe St Rose of Lima’s strength as she tended to the sick and poor in her community, or St Rita of Cascia, who wanted so much to join the Augustinian Sisters after her husband died that she ended a family feud in order to be accepted into the convent.
When I consider the deep courage and strength of St Gianna Beretta Molla, who died because she refused to abort her child due to complications during pregnancy, I am both humbled and heartened by her capacity to love and sacrifice herself.
St Gianna could have had a hysterectomy that would have saved her life. Instead, she carried her child to term. It cost her everything – her very life.
These saints, and others like them, lived lives of extraordinary courage fuelled by faith. They encountered circumstances beyond their control and chose to act in ways that exposed their vulnerability, whether by endangering themselves physically or socially.
They did all this with the conviction of their beliefs. That’s a badass way to live. I want to call these saintly women my friends. I want them praying for me in heaven, so that I can be courageous here on earth as I seek my own path to holiness.
My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live is published by Ave Maria Press