11 September 2006

Naughty to Holy

Saints Behaving Badly, Thomas J. Craughwell, Doubleday, 2006

I was very skeptical at first. The title of the book, Saints Behaving Badly, sounded like one of those screeds written by an anti-Catholic Catholic who tries to convince us that we can ignore the current Pope because somewhere in the distant past some Pope had a girlfriend or pilfered from the papal treasury or drank a little too much. I thought: “Great. Another book ‘exposing’ the saints of the Church as sinners in order to promote some ridiculous dissident agenda.” I could not have been more wrong. Thomas Craughwell writes of his intentions: "The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill, but to understand how grace works in the world. Every day, all day long, God pours out his [sic] grace upon us, urging us, coaxing us, to turn away from everything that is base and cheap and unsatisfying, and turn toward the only thing that is eternal, perfect, true--that is himself[sic]" (xii). Is Craughwell a Dominican? Maybe I can persuade him to give the life of a preacher a try! Though the title is misleading, the book is anything but a juicy expose of saintly misdeeds. What Craughwell gives us is a well-written and lively picture of exactly what the Church is all about: the proclamation of the Good News that even the worst sinner can become a saint. Moving from St. Matthew to Venerable Matt Talbot, Craughwell chronicles the morally chaotic lives of the malcontents who became some of our best examples of Christian holiness. My favorites: St. Christopher, Servant of the Devil; St. Augustine, Heretic and Playboy; St. Columba, Warmonger; St. Vladimir, Fratricide, Rapist, and Practitioner of Human Sacrifice; St. Francis of Assisi, Wastrel; and St. Peter Claver, Dithering Novice. What’s fascinating to me about all these saints is that moment of grace that turns them around, that instant in time when the Lord touches their cold hearts with the fire of his Spirit and sets these guys ablaze with his love. Some of the stories may not be appropriate for younger readers (blood and guts, sexually suggestive content), but older adolescents will benefit tremendously from reading that their worst sins probably don’t rate the title “Satantist” or “Hedonist” or “Mass Murderer” and that even these sinners found God’s grace and His salvation. Over at Disputations, Tom suggests that the book would make a good reading group for a parish. I agree. Perhaps confessors could recommend the book to penitents whose pride prevents them from accepting God's forgiveness because their sins are truly horrible. Tell them to read the book and ask themselves: "Am I THAT bad?" Or maybe the parish youth group could use the book as inspiration for a revival of the medieval tradition of staging conversion dramas! However you choose to use the book, it's worth a read.


  1. Anonymous7:26 AM

    My favorite story is that Jesus assured only one person that he would be in heaven--the THIEF crucified beside Him. Was that in the book?


  2. Faith,

    Yes, St Dismas gets a chapter...

    Fr. Philip