They went “all in” on Christ and embraced Catholicism with every fiber of their being
There is a common fallacy that says you must “live a little” while you are young. The implication is that young people should do something fun with their lives, see the world, experience life and disregard any “rules” that might weigh them down. Religion is often seen as a barrier to fun and something reserved for “old people.”
It should come as no surprise that a recent survey found “[m]ore than one-third of millennials now say they are unaffiliated with any faith.”
But don’t tell that to Saint Aloysius Gonzaga and ten saints who died in their 20s. Instead of living “a little,” and going “all out,” they went “all in” on Christ and embraced Catholicism with every fiber of their being. They didn’t see rules as a hindrance, but found the Church’s laws gave them true freedom.
They remind us that our life on earth is short and we know neither the day nor the hour when God will call us home. We must prepared and not procrastinate in the practicing of our faith. We can’t treat eternal life like an important exam in college for which we will study tomorrow or pull an “all-nighter.” These saints remind us that today could be our last day and eternity is a very long time indeed.
So let us look to these heroic young saints for inspiration, who didn’t think religion was reserved for the white-haired ladies in the back of church.
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga – Born to a noble family, Aloysius renounced his title and inheritance. Joining the Jesuits at age 17, Saint Aloysius tended to plague victims in Rome, caring for their every need. He would die from the plague at age 23. His feast day is today, June 21.
Saint John Berchmans – Inspired by the life of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Saint John also entered the Jesuits at age 17 and desired to work in China after being ordained. He never lived to see that day, but was revered for his holiness and austerity of life. He died at age 22 from dysentery. His feast day is November 26.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity – Saint Perpetua was a married noblewoman and the mother of a nursing infant and Saint Felicity was a pregnant slave imprisoned with her. They were martyred in 203 under Roman rule and were inserted into the Canon at Mass — we ask their prayers in the Litany of Saints. Felicity was 22 when she died. Their feast day is March 7.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux – Known as the “little flower,” Saint Thérèse desired to be a nun from a young age and was granted permission to enter Carmel at age 15. Her autobiography Story of a Soul is one of the most widely read books in the Catholic Church. Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Saint John Paul, Therese died at age 24, from tuberculosis. Her feast day is October 1.
Saint Gemma Galgani – An Italian mystic, Saint Gemma desired to enter the Passionists but was denied entrance because of her health. She was known for her holiness and visions. She “fought the devil”, and died from tuberculosis at age 25. Her feast day is April 11.
Saint Germaine Cousin – Neglected and abused by her family, Saint Germaine was a shepherdess who led a life of much suffering. She frequented the sacraments and prayed the Rosary regularly. She died at age 22. Particularly beloved in France, her feast day is June 15.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha – Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” Saint Kateri was converted to the Catholic faith through the example of French missionaries. She was known for her purity and steadfast faith. She died at age 24. Her feast day is July 14.
Saint Charles Lwanga – A member of the Muganda tribe, Saint Charles was chief of the royal pages and was killed by King Mwanga II for refusing to abandon the Catholic faith. He was martyred at age 21. His feast day is June 3. Of his death Bishop Robert Barron has noted that evangelization “puts the evangelizer in harm’s way.”
Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity – Having desired from a young age to enter Carmel, Saint Elizabeth refused many offers of marriage and entered the convent at age 21. She was known for her holiness and is often compared to Saint Thérèse. She died at age 26. Her feast day is November 8. She will be canonized by Pope Francis on October 16, 2016.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati – A Third Order Dominican, Blessed Pier Giorgio was an avid outdoorsmen and involved in politics. He is also known as the “Man of the Beatitudes” for his practice of quiet charity towards others, which his family only learned about when thousands showed up at his house upon his death. He died at age 24 of a fast-moving polio virus. His feast day is July 4.
All of these saints died “in the prime of their life,” but none of them would have traded their strong faith in God for something more ordinary. They remind us that life is too short and we should be more concerned about our salvation and the salvation of others than about the follies of this earthly realm.