I grew up in a pro-life family. Way pro-life. My dad, an uncle, and both grandmothers went to jail for rescuing. My uncle helped start the Gabriel Project. I distinctly remember “helping” set up the first Celebration for Life banquets in Corpus Christi, Texas, however much help somebody of such scant years and short stature could possibly be. Processions, Marches, prayer vigils, sign-holding . . . honey, been there, done that.
I actually work at a pro-life non-profit now. We help organize prayer vigils, spread the word about Planned Parenthood’s agenda of death, sidewalk counsel, give talks, and more.
And you know what? I feel like I should be ashamed. In fact, I am ashamed.
I’m working on reading Fr. Tom Euteneuer’s new book, Demonic Abortion. Let me just say: I have given presentations focusing on the spiritual battle that goes on around abortion mills, and yet I feel like I’m having my eyes opened.
For my lack of conviction, for my tepidity, for every time I shrug and say casually that well, ya know, we tried . . . Father, forgive me.
Here’s the problem: the Church, our beautiful, glorious, Blood-bought Mother, the resplendent Bride of Christ, the beating heart of Christendom, has apparently been recently populated by many, including myself, who assume we can get to Heaven by settling for being limp-handed saints.
The only problem with this being the following: there is no such thing as a limp-handed saint.
Allow me to explain.
I have always loved art museums. Real ones, anyway – not the ones full of those weird offerings of chaotic, yet strangely bored and boring static they call “modern art”. Yikes.
No, I love walking down halls of storm-tossed ships, sun-dappled forests, stern-faced barons and silken-clad ladies. I often wonder what the artist was thinking or feeling or dreaming when he once stood working where I stand now, gazing. I love the long, involved stories traipsing across a canvas with a story in every corner, oil-covered heights towering above your head inside their gilt frames. I love meeting the eyes of some brilliantly painted child, who gazes serenely out at you while you wonder what they grew up to be a few hundred years ago.
And the saints: sometimes you come across a really good saint.
I’m a harsh critic of the painted saints though.
I really, really don’t like the limp-handed saints.
This is more the term I use for a particular kind of painting than a consistent defect. Regardless of their hands appearing or being limp, they give the impression of being limp. Do you remember their hands? If not, that’s a limp-handed saint.
As much as any given artist was surely full of reasons he was doing it right, so I am often full of reasons of why I think he did it wrong. For example, I honestly don’t agree with John the Baptist looking like he’s half-cracked – surely there was never a man more in his right mind. Intense: yes. Focused: yes. Strict and stern and painfully honest: yes, yes, yes. Feverish and with the appearance of being hallucinatory: I definitely have my doubts. Almost worse then the crackpot “Johns” are the far-too-mild-mannered ones. I don’t think this voice crying out in the wildreness was afflicted with a pair of lily-whites. The man did live in the desert, after all. The Jordan isn’t exactly flowing with milk, and I feel fairly certain that honey they say he had wasn’t being used for moisturizer. Last I checked, locusts aren’t much known for promoting even skin tone and a youthful glow. I like the feeling in Simon Vouet’s painting of John – he looks like he just heard something and he’s standing upright to listen. His hand is raised in front of his chest as though he’d been talking and gesturing expressively, but froze at this all-important Voice that sounds in his ear. Time suspended, eternity touching earth as it whispers in the ear of the Baptizer and halts his unwearying hands.
Anybody who actually thinks this thunderous opponent of an incestuous king Herod, this camel-clad John who apparently had no problem about calling some of the locals a “brood of vipers” actually poured water from a shell over the Sacred Head of the Savior Whom the Baptizer assures us came “to baptize…with the Holy Spirit and fire” , please stand.
Sure. Right. Poured.
Seriously, I’ll betcha a whole lot the Baptizer baptized in the good ol’ dunking style. He was using a river, after all, and not a hip-high shallow-basined marble font. I honestly cannot think of a single male I know who could resist dunking his cousin in a river given license to do so. Once convinced his Savior was really insisting on being baptized by one “not worthy to untie the straps of His sandles” , I envision the locust-eating desert man went all out, and the Messiah went all the way under the muddy Jordan. Mark speaks of the Holy Spirit’s appearance as a dove above Jesus “when He came up out of the water.”
Sounds like dunking to me. John the Baptist was no limp-handed saint.
I also don’t like John the Apostle looking like the baby-faced kid Apostle. Possibly he was, but a nickname of the One he followed makes me seriously doubt that: Son of Thunder. He was the one following the Baptizer around before Jesus showed up and the Savior’s forerunner “looked at Jesus…and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’”. He was the one who endured mental and emotional martyrdom at the foot of the Cross. He ran to the tomb with the big fisherman on Easter morning. He was the one who recorded “thunder”-ous Revelations. Johnny the Kid? Gimme a break. I really don’t think the point of John explaining how he was the one resting on the bosom of his Lord at the Last Supper was to make a show of him being meek and mild. To me it seems more to say: “See? I, even I, the one the Maker of thunder calls a Son of Thunder, the seeker, the one too impatient to sit still and wait for life to come to me – I rest here. Here, I have found my peace. If I can be at rest here, so can you.”
As far as depictions of saints go, it seems to me that their hands should be second only to their eyes. I read a book about St. Catherine of Siena once, and two things stand out: her beautiful, radiant, luminous eyes… and her hands. She was always serving; her family, the poor, the sick. If eyes are the windows to the soul, maybe hands are windows of the heart. Where your heart is, there your hands go to work. And isn’t that one of the ways we can “pray without ceasing”? To offer up the work of our hands as a sacrifice of praise; surely this is a means of sanctification.
And how could the hands of the saints be weak or limp? The Shroud of Turin shows the hands of a man nailed through the wrists, muscles and nerves affected in a way that leaves the hand in a stiff, claw-like position. The hands that carpentered, cleared blind eyes, released mute tongues, opened deaf ears, cleansed leprosy, multiplied loaves and fishes, raised sinking Peter from the waves, gave life to the dead, wrote in the dust beside the adulterous woman, consecrated ordinary bread and wine into His Most Precious Body and Blood, held the reed as a scepter in His bloodied Hands, and cooked breakfast on the shore for the hesitant fishermen. To follow Him, take up your cross, and how to do this but with your hands?
St. Joseph., Guardian of the Infant Jesus, Terror of Demons, Pillar of Families. Joseph, the carpenter. Carpentry – imagine what the hands of Our Lord’s foster father would have been like!
Peter, dear Peter. The Fisher Prince would have had unimaginably roughened hands from his work with ropes and nets and oars and sails and sun and salt water.
St. Francis of Assisi, stigmatist and rebuilder of churches.
St. Gianna Molla’s husband Pietro said he never remembered her hands being idle in their home. Quiet, gentle, and steady at her work.
The hands of Mother Teresa . . . they’re difficult to miss when you see them in her photographs. Those are no limp hands.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati’s sister Luciana tells of her 24-year-old brother insisting on writing a note himself within days of his death, with directions about which poor man the medicine Pier Giorgio had been carrying in his pocket ought to go to. He scrawled it with his own hand: crippled by polio, driven by holy love.
This is a lesson for all of us who call ourselves “pro-lifers”. We find ourselves in the midst of a spiritual battle with eternal ramifications. In this war for our country, our children, our souls – there is no longer time for us to shrug, or sigh, or make excuses. We all must do all we can, whatever that is. Write, pray, stand, speak, suffer at the foot of the Cross in witness to Love. And for those who are able, often the foot of the Cross is at the doors of the abortion mills, where we are called to defend His smallest ones. It has been beautifully said by many pro-lifers that we are called to stand with our unborn brothers and sisters as they go to their own Calvary, and to be the only love they may ever know in their all-to-short lives, so they might not die alone. We are called to witness to the truth of their lives, to plead on their behalf. We are called to be saints, and saints of strong hands.
Surely the hands of the saints should reflect their hearts. Not limp or idle – but yearning, stretching, beseeching. Seeking. Finding. Rejoicing.
The hands of the Church Militant.