Everyone loves the stories of the young hero/heroine. Our hearts swell along with the music when justice is done and good conquers evil. Really, we need these stories to remind ourselves of all that is good and true in the world. This is why our imaginations are captivated by characters like Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, and the Pevensie children who encounter the very real struggle—and win!
Each of these characters reminds us of our own humanity. At the same time, the stories smack of the struggle to overcome whatever insurmountable obstacle we find ourselves up against: Luke’s search for identity away from the dark side, Frodo’s struggle to overcome temptation , The Pevensie’s inexperience in fighting for Narnia in the face of the white witch.
In a fictional way, they make the story of Christian life feel tangible, if even in a small way.
The Stories of the Saints
The Saints in particular can remind us of these themes as well—which is why it is important that we know them (and know a lot of them!). Thankfully, the lived experiences of the Saints are so varied that we do not have to go back to the same underdog story to imagine that God could use our circumstances—no matter how unlikely or absurd.
After all, who but God would have imagined the potential for grace in the lives of people like Servant of God Dorothy Day, Edith Stein (Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross), Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Therese of Lisieux, Saint José Luis Sánchez del Rio, Saint Josephine Bakhita, and Saint Clare of Assisi? Each of their circumstances were unique and unrepeatable. All of them, permeated by the movement of the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning I said there were Personalities in God. I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up yourself to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most “natural” men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints. // C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
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Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions
The Saint we celebrate today has such a story. Charles Lwanga was born in Uganda in 1860. At the time, Catholicism was new to Uganda and was received favorably by Uganda’s King, Mutesa. However, that changed after his death. His successor, King Mwanga, was hostile toward the presence and implications of the people’s desire for Christianity, particularly as a pedophile who was known to prey upon the pages in his service.
When King Mwanga ordered the murder of a visiting Anglican Bishop, Joseph Mukasa, a Catholic who served as the King’s chief page renounced his actions loudly. He was quickly beheaded, leaving Charles Lwanga as the King’s chief page and the primary defense of the other pages against the King’s advances. Charles was 25 years old.
As tensions increased between the King and the faithful in his court, it became clear to Charles and the other pages that their lives were in danger. Once King Mwanga realized that the pages were preparing for Baptism, all pages were questioned and the Christians were separated from the others. Given the opportunity to renounce or claim their Faith, the fifteen young men declared their faith in God “until death.”
In total twenty-two young men were martyred, burned alive.
The True Triumphant End
Perhaps this is less of the heart-swelling ending we hope for, but it is a very real reminder of the stakes of faithfulness in hostile territory. Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions chose Faith over participation in an unconscionable culture, even in their youth. Not all of us will be asked to give all for our belief in Christ in the same way. Although we are each asked to be decisive about whom we will serve.
There are very real and challenging circumstances that surround each of our lives. Likely, our story does not have the grandeur of a trilogy, or the lives of the Saints (yet!), but these particular circumstances are the path we walk toward Heaven. In that way we can ask for the courage of Saint Charles and Companions. Saint Charles Lwanga is known as the Patron Saint of African Catholic Youth Action.
Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, pray for us!
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