Wonderful is God in His Saints! And at times, somewhat strange too! Today is the feast of St. Alex. The Church on the Aventine Hill in Rome, dedicated in his honor, preserves a portion of that staircase beneath which he lived and died. I have regularly visited this Church and spent time contemplating the life of this ‘hidden jewel’ as he has been called.
From the little that we know about the story of his life, we are told that, on receiving a divine inspiration, he left his wife and house on the very night of his marriage. Canonists, today, would be only too willing to take up his case for annulment on the grounds of defective consent! Years later, he returned and lived as a poor mendicant for seventeen long years under the staircase of his ancestral home, remaining unknown and unrecognized. It was only after his death that it was discovered that he was indeed the son of the house! Wonderful and strange is God in His Saints!
Alex was canonized. I have often been asked as to why his poor deserted wife was not! Was not she the one who suffered most the consequences of his ‘inspiration’? I have never found a satisfactory answer to that except by saying that this is a secret which God alone jealously guards. After all, not all Saints are canonized. There will be quite a few surprises in heaven when we meet Saints who never crowded our altars on earth.
Sanctity is not only unreasonably wonderful and strange. It is also reasonably ‘mad’. It can neither be explained nor expounded. It can only be understood in the light of the madness of love. And in this very madness lies its real beauty. In all deep and true love there is always more than a touch of madness. Lovers are mad not because they do things that go against reason, but because they act in a manner that is above reason. Does not the heart have reasons of which the mind does not know? How else can we understand the madness of Francis Xavier who threw away a brilliant University career and set sail for an unknown Far East, all afire to preach and proclaim the Gospel? Or the madness of little Therese who, hidden in a Carmelite cloister, and wasting away from tuberculosis, sacrificed her life for the missions? Or the madness of John Vianney who was consumed by pastoral zeal even to the point of being almost riveted to the confessional? Or the madness of John of the Cross who, with a heart expanded by forgiving love, responded so graciously to the very friars who had indicted and imprisoned him?
We, who are sane, will find it hard to understand the madness of the Saints, who, because they are madly in love with God, act in a way that is beyond our ken. To understand the Saints we must be affected with that madness of love that made them give up the commonplace good and opt for the mad best!