A Saint for the Birds


The older son replied, ‘Look! For years now I’ve done every single thing you asked me to do. I never disobeyed even one of your orders, yet you never gave me so much as a kid goat to celebrate with my friends. But then this son of yours comes home after going through your money with prostitutes, and you kill the fatted calf for him!’ “ ‘But my child!’ the father said. ‘You’re with me always, and everything I have is yours. But we have to celebrate and rejoice! This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and now he’s found.’” ~ Luke 15:29-32

St. Rose of Viterbo didn’t perform flashy miracles. While only a toddler, she is credited with raising her aunt from death when she by simply lovingly holding her hand. She was visited both by Jesus and his mother, which led her to a devout commitment to join a religious order. But when she attempted to join the Poor Clares, she was, ironically, too poor. A dowry was expected in order to join, and her family could not afford it. That didn’t deter her from a commitment to evangelism. While living as a refugee, she convinced an entire town to repent by preaching for three hours…while standing on bonfire! Just two years after being denied admission to the holy order, she died at age 17. Two years after that, the Pope ordered her remains be removed from the grave and reinterred at the monastery that had denied her admission. She is the patron saint of refugees and those rejected by the church.

But it is the claim that she communicated with animals, particularly birds, that intrigues me. It is no surprise that she sought to be a Franciscan given this particular peculiarity. If her passion for birds was like her other passions, she must have been fun at parties. Those of us with too much ornithological knowledge crammed into our heads find sharing that fascinating information with others irresistible, regardless of how much the victim’s eyes glaze over in boredom. Maybe if the soapbox I love to get on were flaming, I might better hold an audience for my communications about communicating with birds.

Where my fervor may lead to justified rejection, Rose’s rejection was clearly unjust. How tragic that the church would ever turn someone away, let alone institutionalize the practice of denying welcome. Sadly, in a recent poll of young people asking them to describe church in a single word, the top of that list was “judgmental.” The truth is that none of us is a Christian alone, we are part of the Kin-dom of God, the Body of Christ. Just because you are not welcome does not mean you don’t belong. In fact, even when you bring the judgment on yourself and the elder siblings cast scorn, our loving parent still comes running to us while we are still stumbling home to throw us a party!

Prayer: God of little miracles, let us not forget that the biggest one is your mad love for each and every one of us, whether we think we deserve it or not. Amen.

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