Learning from the Saints, bringing Christ into a fallen world

Paul Senz has an undergraduate degree from the University of Portland in music and theology and earned a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from the same university. He has contributed to Catholic World Report, Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, The Priest Magazine, National Catholic Register, Catholic Herald, and other outlets. Paul lives in Elk City, OK, with his wife and their four children.

“In every time and place,” says Dawn Marie Beutner, author of The Leaven of the Saints, “the saints bring the kingdom of God to earth by evangelizing, performing miracles, consecrating their lives to Christ, and sometimes just by forgiving their family members. We need this leaven in our fallen world today.”

Detail from “Coronation of the Virgin” (1434-35) by Fra Angelico. (Image: Wikipedia)

Dawn Marie Beutner converted to the Catholic faith as a young adult and now writes extensively on the lives of the saints, and how the saints can be guides and models for us today. She writes regular pieces for Catholic World Report, blogs on her own website, and has even produced an app promoting the prayer of a daily litany of saints.

Her previous book Saints: Becoming an Image of Christ Every Day of the Year (Ignatius Press, 2020), has been described as a “thorough collection that will help you grow in holiness, one day at a time” (Danielle Bean) and “Encyclopedic in scope yet accessible in style…” (Lisa Hendey).

Her new book is The Leaven of the Saints: Bringing Christ into a Fallen World (Ignatius Press, 2023). Looking at the lives of the saints, the book answers the question: “How can we be part of the kingdom of heaven here and now and spread it to others, like leaven causing a lump of dough to rise and expand?”

The communion of saints, the “great cloud of witnesses” (cf. Heb 12:1), is populated by individuals from every background, every era, and every people, and gives witness to how to live an authentically Christian life in the world.

Beutner, writes Most Rev. Michael Burbidge, Bishop of Arlington, Virginia, “weaves a tapestry from the example of saints of all ages, nationalities, vocations, and occupations, from the beginnings of the Church to present day, to show what they teach about vocation, virtue, and daily living. You will be able to identify with the message of these saints and apply it to living a Christian life.”

Beutner recently spoke with Catholic World Report about her new book and the important role the saints can play in our lives.

Catholic World Report: How did the book come about?

Dawn Beutner: I spent several years collecting the biographies of the saints when I wrote my first book. Late in that process, I discovered that there were many more saints—both ancient and modern—than I had ever imagined. But because there are so many, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of them.

This book is my attempt to gather the saints and blesseds of the Church from many different vocations, countries, and centuries and try to help us see “the big picture” of sanctity. That is, what made them saints so that we can be more like them?

CWR: What do you mean by the “leaven” of the saints?

Beutner: Our Lord repeatedly uses the example of leaven in His teaching. For example, in Matt 13:31-33 and Luke 13:18-21, Jesus offers us the parables about the mustard seed and about the woman who placed leaven in three measures of flour. Both parables are clearly designed to explain that tremendously important question: What is the kingdom of God like?

One way to apply this parable is to see that the saints act like leaven in their cultures. That is, in every time and place, the saints bring the kingdom of God to earth by evangelizing, performing miracles, consecrating their lives to Christ, and sometimes just by forgiving their family members. We need this leaven in our fallen world today.

CWR: There are many “lives of the saints” books. What sets this book apart? In other words, what is different about your approach here than what has been done before?

Beutner: I love books about the saints. Some contain brief biographies of large numbers of saints, others offer detailed biographies of a single saint, and there are many books that fit somewhere in between.

What I have tried to do in this book is to introduce the reader to many of the greatest saints, as well as many lesser-known ones, by putting them in context based on certain basic categories.

For example, how can you understand why Anthony the Great is called “the Great” if you don’t understand why he and so many other men and women have chosen to leave the world—that is, money, family, power, and physical comforts—in the first place? It is much easier to understand the greatness of Saint Anthony if you understand him in the context of all those Catholic men and women who have chosen some form of consecrated life over the centuries.

CWR: Why is it important that we see the “humanity of the saints”?

Beutner: Some of the saints of the Church lived such amazing lives that it is easy to think of them as spiritual superheroes. Some received the stigmata, some converted entire nations, and some wrote theological masterpieces.

But every saint and blessed in the Church lived in a family or community, had personal strengths and weaknesses, and experienced some sort of suffering, whether that be physical, emotional, or spiritual.

When we recognize that they faced many of the same situations that we face today—medical problems, family dysfunction, political unrest, and personal vices—we are more likely to turn to their virtuous example than to turn to secular answers for our problems.

CWR: The book is organized by category, rather than simply a list of saints with short biographies (which you did wonderfully in Saints: Becoming an Image of Christ Every Day of the Year. Why did you organize it that way?

Beutner: Breaking down the thousands of saints and blesseds in the Church into major categories helps us gain perspective. What makes a priest a holy priest? Who are the greatest saints from Catholic (and non-Catholic) nations? Why has the Church named certain people as Doctors of the Church? How have some saints grown in holiness through their marriages and families? Which saints worked miracles in their own lifetimes? What can we learn from holy (and less-than-holy) popes?

These categories help us to see these saints, their choices, their virtues, and their holiness in context.

CWR: Why should we even care about the saints? Some have said that we should only look to Christ as our example; so why bother with the saints?

Beutner: Have you ever sat at Mass, listening to your priest give a homily about some important spiritual topic, and wished he would give you an example? The saints are that example, not because they replace Christ, but because they show us how His life is lived out in theirs.

CWR: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Beutner: I hope that readers will have a new appreciation for how the saints changed their families, communities, and countries, and how we can do the same by drawing close to Jesus Christ.