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, Eva, for writing about Dr. José Hernández! Your article brought to mind one of my favorite hymns, "I Sing a Song of the Saints":

    1 I sing a song of the saints of God,
    patient and brave and true,
    who toiled and fought and lived and died
    for the Lord they loved and knew.
    And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
    and one was a shepherdess on the green:
    they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
    God helping, to be one too.
    2 They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
    and God’s love made them strong;
    and they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
    the whole of their good lives long.
    And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
    and one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
    and there’s not any reason, no, not the least,
    why I shouldn’t be one too.
    3 They lived not only in ages past;
    there are hundreds of thousands still;
    the world is bright with the joyous saints
    who love to do Jesus’ will.
    You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
    in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
    for the saints of God are just folk like me,
    and I mean to be one too.

  2. Both are so relevant for this year 2 of Covid, and bloggers, your writing was wonderful and make the choice hard. But I especially want to lift up folks not like me - in this case, not European. It was a joy to see others thinking the same!

  3. I have voted for both of these saints since the first round, so this is difficult. I continue to ponder.

    In the meantime, I would like to thank all of the celebrity bloggers as well as the Supreme Executive Committee for this engaging way to learn about the saints. I've been following this exercise for quite a few years now, and enjoy it thoroughly every year.

  4. For some reason I had the easiest time voting yesterday and then today it was once again difficult. I mean, physically difficult, like my computer does not want to let me vote.

    I voted for Hernandez. I am glad to have been able to learn about him this Lent Madness. I am confused by Eva Suarez’s write up though, what did people find distasteful?

  5. Once again I couldn’t vote. Yesterday it took my vote on the first try. Huzzah! But I guess today was payback time, for what, I’m not sure. But I was trying to vote for Jose, to hold up the ministry of the laity..

  6. I voted for the good doctor, but, as a writing teacher I thought Laurie’s write up was truly excellent—A+++++. Eva, you did a really great job of necessarily putting yourself in the story without making it about you . The two of you are a joy

  7. Maybe saint from Villanova will do better than
    team I didn’t pick! Or Jose will be Kansas & win it all. That would make me 50/50 this year.
    No! Go Teresa tomorrow!

  8. This was a difficult decision for me to make. As a Latina myself, I truly appreciate Eva's position...
    Wouldn't it be nice to have a Latino/a saint win The Golden Halo? Being a little bit newer to Lent Madness, I don't remember there having been a Golden Halo winner that's considered Latino/a....

  9. I think Thomas was amazing but I voted for Jose. His story blew me away from the beginning. It is incredible that he left money outside his office for people to take to buy food or medicine or whatever they needed to stay alive. That is love for your fellow man, and it really touched my heart.

    1. That's one of the reasons I voted for Jose too. I was also very moved by both of the write-ups today(and yesterday too). Also, Eva's write-up made me understand a little bit more about my heritage. Thank you.

  10. I just wanted to say how much I was moved by both writings. Just wonderful. The kind of wonder that brings tears to one's eyes. No offense to anyone, but I changed my mind and vote after reading Eva Suarez's post to vote for Jose Hernandez.

  11. If the current lead continues, tomorrow will be my most difficult choice yet, voting between two I've voted for every time...

    Once again, it's José for me. I was planning that way even before Eva's words this morning, they were just the icing on the cake!

  12. "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." As a life-long Episcopalian who majored in comparative religions, that statement was the deciding factor for my vote.

  13. It was really challenging to be asked to choose between these two saints. What a struggle, since they both understand "the church as the bride of Christ, and the one for whom He gave His life."

  14. Wow! These blogs just keep g etting better and better. Thank you to all the celebrity bloggers who have made so many of the choices difficult ones to make.

  15. I'm voting for Jose, not just for the example of his life and dedication, which both have, but because he is the only one I voted for in the first round that has prevailed to reach the Faithful 4 of the four who were winners in round one. (If I predict a bracket next year, I will select my favorites and then go back and select all the others to advance.)

  16. If there were ever two kindred spirits, it's José Hernández and Tomás of Villanova! Not only their values and their deeds but their personalities are so compatible. And they are both very much saints for our times.

    I am thrilled that they are both in the Final Four, not least because that enables today's beautiful posts by Eva and Laurie. Thank you! And thank you, SEC, for bringing us these magnificent saints. I had never heard of either of them, and they are now both personal favorites and fonts of inspiration.

    This would have been an agonizing choice, but I checked the results first, and easily decided to vote for Tomás just to swell his tally. Tomorrow, Dr. Hernández for the Golden Halo!

  17. This pairing was the most difficult choice in the whole process.
    What wonderful examples these two saints are for all of us.
    Thank you for expanding our knowledge of these people who are real and worthy saints.

  18. This has been the hardest Faithful Four I can remember. Today I considered two blessed saints for whom I voted in each round. As a college professor I am drawn to Thomas; as a nurse I am drawn to Jose. Both men served the poor with humility and true Christian love. Being forced to choose, I voted for Jose, but I wouldn’t be sad if Thomas wins. Blessings to all.

  19. Eva's writeups have been brilliant. I was going to vote for the doctor saint anyway, but today's blog confirmed it. Jose for the Golden Halo: a beautiful example of *modern* Christianity.

    Now, about that truly annoying drop-down banner on the website ....

  20. Thank you to both writers today.
    I was moved by both essays about these 2 remarkable saints
    Also I very much appreciated how the writers today spoke to the human condition, to our unique human condition in 2022.
    Very grateful, sincerely Brenda

  21. I have supported Thomas of Villanova since the beginning. He impressed me like none of the others have. So, today as I see him lose, I will have to go with Jose in the next round as he was my second choice.

  22. I think if read the posts again and again, I'd end up voting for whichever I read last because both saints are worthy and both bloggers offer compelling reasons to vote for the saint, connecting them to the faithful living we're called to in our day. Since I read them in the order they came, I'm voting for el sancto medico -- but it so easily could have gone the other way. May we (may I!) learn from both of these holy men.

  23. Proud and happy to be able to vote for a layman from South America. Today and tomorrow.

  24. Eva Suarez is a blogger to be reckoned with, and for years I have liked Laurie Brock. I have always wondered about that struggle for those who truly converted but whose people were brutalized and their culture stolen by those professing love for their fellow humans. I loved Ms. Suarez's words on this tension. In the end, it was Jose Hernandez for me, but I enjoyed learning more about Thomas as well.

  25. AWESOME JOB, bloggers! Both of you did A+ work. But I had to vote for Jose Hernandez. Eva's witness is heartfelt and passionate. I love these lines: "it was poverty that was the death sentence, not the diagnosis" and "[he] lived the complexity with eyes wide open." These are realities we all can face and accept and resist, and these words invite us all to serve. Bravae, both bloggers. And el santo medico for the win.

  26. Great blogging and hard decision again! Two lives worthy of emulating and using as guideposts to help us on the way.

  27. As a lay worker in the church, one who also dreamed of ordination but found herself drawn to those who called themselves chaplains, lay staff, Christian educators, I have to hold up Jose Hernandez who realized his people needed a doctor, more than a priest. And in following his calling, became a saint in action, to his people.