Thomas of Villanova vs. José Hernández

Who will face Teresa of Avila for the Golden Halo? That's the question of the day as Thomas of Villanova squares off against José Hernández. Yesterday, Teresa advanced to the championship round by narrowly defeating Madeleine Sophie Barat 52% to 48%. We're getting close!

In case you missed yesterday's episode of Monday Madness, you can watch it here.

Thomas of Villanova

The past two years have been (yes, I’ll say it) unprecedented. In the span of hours and days, many of us went from living our lives to staying safe at home. Those of us involved with faith communities found ourselves learning about digital ministry as we lived it. We were separated from so much of what made our lives rich, interesting, and even annoying. Our church programs hit pause. We couldn’t gather in person. Pastoral visits to hospitals stopped. And millions died.

I sat in the messiness of it all and wondered who we were as the church now? Now that all we had built, from our buildings to our nifty Church programs, were not what they were.

So what, indeed, were we?

Thomas has a response.

We were still the Church. We were still the community that Jesus called us to be. We were still capable of small acts of great love, no matter where we were.

We are still the Church Thomas served so faithfully.

Not one concerned with nifty new programs or pomp and circumstance, but one concerned with helping those in our world who are hungry, who are unhoused, who are sick, who are alone, and who are afraid.

Thomas is a Christian in a long line of Christians who lived his life. He was a college professor, a son, a monk, a priest, and a bishop. He didn’t make his choices to follow Christ based on what would look good on his resume, but on how he could best serve the least of these whom Jesus loves. He rejected being appointed bishop for years, until finally he said yes, to a diocese that hadn’t had a bishop in almost a century.

To say they were probably a messy place is an understatement.

Yet he went there, filled with humility and love, and immediately opened the churches and his home to those who needed shelters, to those who needed food, and to those who needed welcome. He went to the jails and demanded the dignity of those imprisoned be respected. He found the holy balance between what he needed to live and what could be better used to help those in need. He became known as Father of the Poor.

As we find our way in the world still impacted by Covid, I wonder if saints like Thomas can guide us still, reminding us of why Jesus called us out of our lives and into the world. Thomas has certainly reminded me that the Church is not a building or a set of fancy programs, but a messy community of people who are willing to love and to serve - sharing our gifts, sharing our love, sharing our faith.

Laurie Brock

José Hernández

I had never heard of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández before the Lent Madness Assignments hit my inbox. Naturally, I was curious…what would the big famous story be?

I looked for milestone moments; what I discovered instead was humble, everyday holiness. Day in and day out, healing, teaching, and serving; José Hernández was a man for others. There was no one famous story, it turned out; but one million—one million quiet miracles of illnesses healed or debts paid, the kind of miracles that are famous in one house, not to history.

José was dedicated to his work, but it cost him other dreams. As a young man, and really throughout his life, he dreamed of becoming a priest. But that would mean turning his back on the rare education and opportunities he had been blessed with. In his heart, he knew his community needed a doctor more than they needed another priest.

El santo medico refused wealth and status, he said no to easier jobs because he wanted to serve the poor. He didn’t spurn money as much as he truly understood its power, how people struggled to live with dignity. He saw how all too often, it was poverty that was the death sentence, not the diagnosis.

When people called him a miracle-worker, José insisted that it was God’s grace. His strong faith helped people to know God, and to believe that God cared about them. I keep thinking about his funeral–the crowds filling the streets to follow his coffin, chanting “Dr. Hernández is ours!”

It can be tricky to be a Latina blogger writing about a Latino saint. You want to do right by their story, clarifying traditions that have often been dismissed or misunderstood, while not being misunderstood yourself. It felt important to acknowledge other religious traditions also recognize José’s holiness—not to say these religions are right, or equivalent, but for what this can teach us about the power of our own Christian witness to change people’s lives.

I know some readers found this narrative choice distasteful, but it helped me understand myself. Santería and María Lionza would not exist if not for colonialism and the brutality of the slave trade—and neither would the vital witness of Latin American Christianity. For José to be a devout Catholic Venezuelan, for me to come from faithful Puerto Rican Christians, is to know that freedom in Christ has become ours through a terrible history of violence. To be a Latin American Christian is to live a complex faith—knowing injustice and evil brought Christianity to your people, but still trusting in Jesus. In Him, even the hard wood of the cross became a tree of life.

José lived the complexity with eyes wide open. He spent day after day with the sick and the dying, saw the randomness of poverty and suffering, and still got up each morning praising God. José Gregorio Hernández should win the Golden Halo because his life should inspire every single one of us to use the gifts that we have been given, to walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us. Our lives truly can be an offering to God and to the world.

— Eva Suarez


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70 comments on “Thomas of Villanova vs. José Hernández”

  1. Thank you, Celebrity Bloggers (Eva and Laurie) for your excellent and educational posts. Again, both men are worthy candidates for The Golden Halo. I voted for the humble doctor, but Yay! for whoever wins today.

  2. Let's give our Thomas a shot!(so that we could see two Spanish saints for the final round 😀

  3. Both are saints worth emulating! Thank you, Eva Suarez, for your moving, insightful writing!

  4. Kudos to both bloggers in presenting their saints today. It’s a most difficult choice as both are worthy. Pondering for now, but will vote later.

  5. This marks my third vote for the humble doctor.

    What wonderful blogging by Eva Suarez!!! Such an emotional story. Wow. Thank you.

  6. I would vote for both of these men if I didn't know it would place me into Lent Madness hell. Thus with great respect for Thomas of Villanova, I'll cast my vote for José Hernandez, the saint I did not know before.

  7. Looks like it's going to be Teresa vs Jose for the Golden Halo. Me, I'd give Golden haloes to all of the saints in this year's Lrnt Madness. Thank you for introducing us to saints heretofore unknown to many of us, and for reminding us why those known to us are saints. A blessed Easter to you all.

  8. I voted for Jose. I was won over by Eva Suarez's sentence: he knew his community needed a doctor more than they needed another priest.

  9. I was swayed by Eva Suarez’s passion! Most difficult choice ever, until tomorrow! All of this years bloggers have been terrific!

  10. I have a hard time deciding between these two servant saints. I am grateful to Lent Madness for giving the lives of so many inspiring saints to learn from and emulate.
    Thomas of Villanova really inspired me with his life of servanthood and his humility. El medico santo José continues to bring great hope to so many people. To contemplate the lives and the giving of both these saints is wonderful during Holy Week. I won't say who I'm voting for, but I'm very grateful for learning about them and about so many of the Saints this year. Thanks to all whose hard work makes Lent Madness such a great experience. My continuing wish is that these stories and testimonies be gathered up in a book so we can continue to be inspired by them!!

    1. I agree that a book would be great. I would love for it to include John Cabot’s limericks and the “new” hymns that have shown up in the comments.
      All are inspiring.

  11. I think this has been the hardest choice in the whole bracket. I love both of these men's witness and lives. But in the end, I voted for the common man, not the cleric. Because as Lesbia Scott put into her hymn, "And one was a doctor..." And then she cleverly said: "There's not any reason, no not the least, why (he) shouldn't be one too." !Viva el santo medico!

  12. I voted for Thomas, yes, he is my choice for Golden Halo from the start. He lived his entire life from a very young age serving the poor around him, never thinking of his own comfort. I believe he truly served Christ and followed His commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

  13. I have voted for both Thomas of Villanova and Jose Hernandez every step of the way. Today I have to diverge! I choose Jose because he used the gifts God gave him - outside of any hierarchy he followed God's path and served His children.

  14. What wonderful blogs on both saints today. It gave me a warmer feel about life today and how some have chosen to use their gifts.

    Thank you to all who toil to bring Lent Madness to life. It is a fun, educational and inspirational.

  15. I chose Jose. This was a difficult choice. As I became a committed rather than social or, I often say, magical, Christian, I too thought of ordination. It was appealing in the early days of allowing women's ordination. But practical realities set in, and I realized that leading Christians and being Christian in everyday life as a witness are two different callings. So, did Dr. Hernandez. It is the calling of most of us, and he is the example we need for these times.

  16. I voted for Thomas of V. mainly on the strength of his steady advance up through the brackets on my scorecard, however I also believe Jose Hernandez has shown equal worthiness to wear "The Golden Halo".

  17. I am joining the rest of the faithful followers of Lent Madness by saying thank you to ALL who organize this fun Lenten treat. I am so glad we are able to learn about these servant saints in this marvelous method of merriment. Today's bloggers did such a great job pitching for their respective winners (in my book, all these folks are winners). THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

  18. Beautiful and inspiring write-ups, thank you. Again, I would be happy to see either advance, but my vote goes to Dr Hernandez, who chose medicine rather than the priesthood because of his peoples need, and who lived a life of 'humble, everyday holiness' and 'one million quiet miracles of illnesses healed or debts paid'.

  19. Gracias, Eva, for sharing so much of yourself in today's blog. You never disappoint. I was planning on voting for Dr. Jose all along, your words make me feel all the more right in my choice.

    We need to appreciate each other's stories. The more I have gotten to know my co-workers in the 21+ years I've worked at MKLM, the more impressed and grateful I am for their company. We are all together, floating in this boat in today's turbulent waters. May we spend our time keeping each other afloat and not looking for someone to push out into the dark, dangerous sea.

  20. Gosh! Great blogs, Celebrity Bloggers. Thomas and Jose are both wonderful examples of the Spirit incarnate in God’s people. That love that surpassed all expectations with strong, fruity notes of humility. Both men are prime examples of saints who did a million saintly things in their day to day living.
    Jose - the Venezuelan Christian, who served God in his vocation, he’s my guy. I’m so hopeful to have his dapper mug on my Golden Halo mug this year!

  21. These two are both worthy of the halo! I have voted for Dr. Jose Hernandez in past rounds and do so again here. To be able to turn the horrors brought by colonialism into such inspiring witness for the Grace of God and love of Jesus in all he did for the people he served so humbly, he is a saint for the ages.

  22. Not sure why but as read today about Jose I was reminded of the stories of the old testament and the teachings and
    learnings of the new testament and the hope and love for all of us as we move through our Lent and Easter seasons and for me to do the good work I am called to do. ..

  23. For the first time in this match-up, I have to ponder my choice. Both of these saints seem to have based their ministries on help and education of the poor. Both were much loved by their communities. I will have to return in a bit to vote, not sure what to do....

  24. As I was thinking over earlier posts about these saints, I remembered that Dr. Jose would leave a bag of his own money in the waiting room, so poor patients could have the dignity of paying for their consult. That made me think of an offering anthem we often sing: All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.