New Book Recalls Sinners Who Became Saints

Reviewed by Michael F. Flach
Herald Staff Writer
(From the Issue of 6/1/06) The title of Thomas Craughwell's new book, Saints Behaving Badly, sounds like something your children might watch on MTV. But the author's latest installment about Catholic saints actually focuses on the interesting lives of men and women whom the Church has sought to emulate for centuries.
Readers probably already know the inspiring stories of St. Augustine (heretic and playboy), St. Matthew (the extortionist and tax collector) and St. Patrick (worshipper of false gods). But Craughwell sheds light on some lesser known saints such as St. Moses the Ethiopian (a fifth-century cutthroat and gang leader), St. Alipius (a contemporary of Augustine who was obsessed with blood sports), St. Dismas (the "good thief" crucified with Christ) and St. Pelagia (promiscuous actress from the fifth century).
"At least since the 19th century many authors have gone out of their way to sanitize the lives of the saints, often glossing over the more embarrassing cases with the phrase 'he/she was once a great sinner,'" Craughwell writes in the book's introduction.
He doesn't doubt the authors' good intentions, but he believes it is "misguided" to edit out the wayward years of a saint's life. "In the early centuries of the Church and all through the Middle Ages, writers of saints' lives were perfectly candid about saints whose lives were far from saintly," Craughwell says.
From these ancient sources the author recounts the bloodbath St. Olga unleashed upon her husband's assassins; St. Mary of Egypt trolling the streets of Alexandria for new sexual conquests; and the obscenely rich St. Thomas a Becket looking down at a poor man almost freezing to death in the street and refusing to give him his cloak.
"The point of reading these stories is not to experience some tabloid thrill," Craughwell says, "but to understand how grace works in the world. Every day, all day long God pours out His grace upon, 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 and true - that is, Himself."
Craughwell points out that, like all of us, saints are not perfect all the time. They are susceptible to the human temptations of lust, greed and envy. But ultimately their stories of conversion and salvation reassure us that if these horrid people can be saved, so can we. Craughwell is the author of dozens of books, including Saints for Every Occasion and The Truth Behind Old Wives Tales. His monthly column on Catholic saints can be found in the Arlington Catholic HERALD.

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