Bl. John Henry Newman realized that we are a link in the great chain of the faith through the ages: “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.” Newman’s own conversion came through reconnecting the chain of the saints, ruptured by the English Reformation. He discovered an unbroken continuity in the Catholic Church. After re-establishing the broken chain, a flood of converts followed in England, sparked by the witness of Bl. Newman.
Here’s another incredible chain running from Jesus’ ministry to 20th century Germany:
First, our Lord called St. Matthew: “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9). Many years late Matthew wrote about his own call within the Gospel bearing his name.
St. Antony hears this Gospel preached in church and immediately puts its message into effect:
Now it was not six months after the death of his parents, and going according to custom into the Lord’s House, he communed with himself and reflected as he walked how the Apostles (Matthew 4:20) left all and followed the Savior; and how they in the Acts (Acts 4:35) sold their possessions and brought and laid them at the Apostles’ feet for distribution to the needy, and what and how great a hope was laid up for them in heaven. Pondering over these things he entered the church, and it happened the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man (Matthew 19:21), “If you would be perfect, go and sell that you have and give to the poor; and come follow Me and you shall have treasure in heaven.” Antony, as though God had put him in mind of the Saints, and the passage had been read on his account, went out immediately from the church, and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villagers.
St. Athanasius met Antony in his exile from Alexandria and wrote a book about his life, stating to his readers: “I feel that, once you have heard the story, you will not merely admire the man but will wish to emulate his commitment as well.” He was right.
Ten years later, two young Roman officials read it and left the service of the Emperor, preferring the friendship of God to man. Another imperial official, Ponticianus, related the story of these men to Augustine, who was cut to the heart with shame, realizing that he did not have the courage of these unlearned men of the desert. Augustine went out to his backyard garden in his struggle to break with the chains of his desires and heard the voice of a child telling him to “take and read.” Remembering Antony’s conversion, he took up the Scripture and immediately found the words of Paul: “Put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
Jumping a thousand years ahead, a young nun from Avila, Teresa, was struggling with prayer until she read the written account of Augustine’s conversion in his Confessions. She describes this in chapter 9 of her own autobiography:
It was at this time that I was given the Confessions of Saint Augustine, and I think the Lord must have ordained this, for I did not ask for the book nor had I ever seen it. I have a great affection for Saint Augustine, because the convent in which I had lived before becoming a nun belonged to his Order, and also because he had been a sinner. . . . When I started to read the Confessions, I seemed to see myself in them and I began to commend myself often to that glorious Saint. When I got as far as his conversion and read how he heard that voice in the garden, it seemed exactly as if the Lord were speaking in that way to me, or so my heart felt. . . . I believe my soul gained great strength from the Divine Majesty: He must have heard my cries and had compassion on all my tears. I began to long to spend more time with Him, and to drive away occasions of sin, for, once they had gone, I would feel a new love for His Majesty.
Four hundred years later, a young Jewish woman, Edith Stein, sojourning with friends at their country estate, happened to pick up Teresa’s autobiography. Having read it straight through in one sitting through the night, she decided to become Catholic: “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth.”
Pope Benedict described the power of the saints to pull us to God: “I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.”
The chain of the saints is real. We all have received our faith through the help of others and in turn should draw others to God through our witness. As Newman said, each one of us is a link in a chain.
“Hope in God the Creator,” Bl. John Henry Newman (from his Meditations and Devotions)
God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission—I never may know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
Somehow I am necessary for His purposes…
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good,
I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth
in my own place, while not intending it,
if I do but keep His commandments
and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever, wherever I am,
I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be
necessary causes of some great end,
which is quite beyond us.
He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life,
He may shorten it;
He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends,
He may throw me among strangers,
He may make me feel desolate,
make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—
still He knows what He is about.