Monday, July 22, 2013


Here's a piece that appeared in the November, 2012 issue of Magnificat.


When I told a lapsed friend I’d published a book about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, she rather pointedly inquired: “But you don’t have to be inside the Church to be a saint, do you?” I understood her concern; one of my abiding obsessions is the “unsung saint”: the person who is never noticed.

But here’s why saints are compelling: Saints are exceptional. Saints are extreme. As William James observed in The Varieties of Religious Experience: “There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life, exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional and eccentric…It would profit us little to study this second-hand [i.e. conventional, ordinary] religious life. We must make search rather for… individuals for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but as an acute fever rather.”

So though in the general sense “saints” can be found in everywhere, those who love Christ tend to be the most extreme people of all. Thus we have an 11-year-old who preferred to be stabbed to death rather than yield her virginity (St. Maria Goretti). We have a nun who drank the pus from the cancerous breast of her mother superior (St. Catherine of Siena). We have a medieval scholar, regarded as one of the most magnificent philosophers the world has known, who at the end of his life regarded his oeuvre and remarked, “All straw!” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

I have my own personal pantheon: St. Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally ill. St. André Bessette, who achieved sainthood by humbly tending the door of a Montreal church for forty years. A new favorite is St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a Chinese layman and opium addict who was prohibited from receiving the sacraments for the last thirty years of his life because of this “grave sin.” During the Boxer Rebellion, in which Christians were brutally persecuted, he was sentenced with many others to die and is reputed to have gone to his execution singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How capacious a Church that holds to her bosom female saints and male saints; saints of every race, age, demographic, IQ, livelihood, and walk of life! How welcoming the arms of a Church that embraces as some of her most precious children the broken, the fragile, the weak, the still sinning, the still in bondage, the still stuck. How emblematic of a Church of mercy and humor to take us as we are. How wise the Church is to understand that perfection consists not in ridding ourselves of every fault but in our capacity to give and to receive love.

In its original form, “saint” simply meant “friend of Jesus” [Col. 1:2]. That’s what saint still means. Glory be to God that the invitation is extended to all.



  1. Heather, love the new header- esp the palm trees!

    MYSTERY, SMARTS, LAUGHS. I also have been thinking about the link between humor and spirituality. Would you consider writing a reflection on this, or if you have one from the past, re-post it? Being an introvert and fairly serious person, I need to cultivate more humor in my life. And linking it to my faith is intriguing!

    Congrats on the publication, and yes, please keep us informed of its availability.

  2. I, for one, like the new header. I also enjoy reading Magnificat and your contributions to it.

  3. Thanks, Michael and Todd, glad you like the new header and the new name!

    Oh, a sense of humor, this is a subject dear to my heart. I have this recurring idea of a book subtitled "The Tragicomedy of the Cross"...but I will put this idea of writing a post on humor in my inner percolater and see what happens...

  4. Errrr.................

    I need a clarification as to what is the title of the website "Heather King" or "Mystery. Smarts. Laughs". Either way I don't really like it at all, at least in so much as this will remain the primary blog page it should have a title of the blog at the top.. I think this makes it seem like Heather King is the title and "Mystery Smarts Laughs" is like a corny description of yourself for an online dating profile..

    Sorry to be so critical. I'm just in love with this blog and have lived with it for so long that it is tough. Shirt of Flame is a stunningly good name for a blog...

  5. Ha ha, don't worry, Robert, I'm not online dating. The new name of the blog is in the big letters, i.e. Heather King, and the subtitle is in small letters, i.e. "Mystery. Smarts. Laughs."

    For years, I've had a website separate from the blog and to keep up both of them was increasingly unwieldy. Also, soon Shirt of Flame is no longer going to be my most recent book...also I think having a blog with my name may make it easier for search engines to find it.

    Nonetheless, I can change back or to something else any damn time I want. And it is going to be the exact same blog, with the same tone, with me at the helm. So I'm sorry you don't like the new title but I do hope you slowly acclimate and I really hope you don't leave!

    You can hit and it will bring you to the blog and then you'll have heather king in both your browser and at the top of the page, if that helps the cognitive dissonance.

    Thanks, Robert...

  6. I could never leave! Let's get real.. Sorry to be critical

  7. I love your reflection on the saints. As a kid, I had a love/fear relationship with them: they were fascinating, but so many of their stories were gruesome and spooky. But now I adore them because they show the richness and variety of our faith. There are an infinite number of ways to be holy and the saints are proof of that.

    Great photos, too.

  8. "How emblematic of a Church of mercy and humor to take us as we are. How wise the Church is to understand that perfection consists not in ridding ourselves of every fault but in our capacity to give and to receive love." That's a quote worth savoring - and I AM savoring it.

    And how capacious (sorry, I had to re-use that word in a sentence, as it will now be added to my vocabulary) is the Catholic Press Association and the folks at Magnificat to recognize and embrace your giftedness as a writer even with your free-spirited and outside-the-mainstream place of being. You are such an inspiration to me! Congratulations, I will so look forward to reading this collection of your writings.

    I like your new blog heading - I think it will be more all-inclusive and capacious and will allow you to move freely about in your writing. But you could call this blog "My favorite chopped liver recipes", and I'd keep reading.

  9. Love your header. And your beautiful words about saints. As a convert, i have grown to love the saints and to read and learn from them. St. Therese is my favorite and I loved your book about her, too.
    God bless.

  10. So glad you folks are digging, or learning to dig, the slightly new look. It just about killed me to retire (for now) that photo of the Jesus statue which (little-known fact) I snapped on my cell at Graceland, the statue having been found in Elvis's bedroom...maybe I'll put it in the sidebar.

    Anyway, thank you, thank you, and Steve, thanks for reminding me of the miracle that both Magnificat and the CPA have found it in their hearts to embrace me! That I have kept to my little path--simply because it's the only path I know or know how to write about with love--and that the path has led me to the door of a couple of places I probably never could have gotten into if I'd been striving for them, just slays me.

    "Lord, I am not worthy to enter under thy roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed"...

  11. Strike that, reverse! I put in the new web link on my iPad & I got the NEW header. Never mind. Now I can see the 'purdy piktour'! Thanks for your patience.

  12. Heather, are there any writings by or on St. Dymphna you would recommend? I've not heard of her until now, but I am entirely intrigued by a patron saint of the mentally ill. Oh, I do hope you know of something!


I WELCOME your comments!!!