On most days of the Church’s liturgical year, one or more saints are presented for our veneration and celebration. On Nov. 1, we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints — all the holy men and women of every time and place who now enjoy the fullness of life and joy with God in heaven.
We know the names of some of these saints because they have been canonized and lifted up for our emulation and devotion. We can safely assume that there are many other saints whose names we do not know, but we nevertheless honor them on All Saints’ Day.
Devotion to the saints is a hallmark of our Catholic faith. Why is it so important that we know the saints and give them our veneration? It is because the saints are our heroes in the faith. Men and women like us, the saints are very real examples of holiness and perseverance, oftentimes in the face of great suffering. The saints are clergy, religious and laity; men and women; young and old, from all vocations and circumstances of life. From the examples of their holy lives we draw inspiration. They have completed their pilgrim journey to heaven, and they beckon us to follow them, assuring us that, with God’s grace, we too can become saints.
Many of us can remember growing up hearing the lives of the saints in our homes and schools. The Church still urges us to know the saints by becoming familiar with their lives. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council reminds us that the saints show us the very face of Christ. He speaks to us in them. We come to know Christ in knowing their heroic lives. It was St. Jerome who said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. We could well add that ignorance of the saints is also ignorance of Christ.
We often hear from our separated brothers and sisters that devotion to the saints (including devotion to Our Blessed Mother) detracts from our devotion to God. But just the opposite is true. When we show our love for the saints we are, in that very act, giving glory to God whose grace has made them saints. The saints give testimony to the power and love of God manifested in His creatures. In the words of the Constitution on the Church: “Every authentic witness of love, indeed, offered by us to those who are in heaven tends towards and terminates in Christ, ‘the crown of all the saints,’ and through him in God who is wonderful in his saints and is glorified in them” (no. 50).
Every Sunday, when we recite the Nicene Creed, we profess our faith in “the communion of saints.” In this we confess that we are united with all those who have remained faithful to Christ, whether living or deceased. This great communion of saints includes all those in heaven, the souls in purgatory who one day will enjoy the glory of heaven, and, yes, those of us who live the life of grace now. St. Paul often wrote to “the saints” who lived in a particular church. He could call them saints because, by faith and baptism, they shared in the life of God himself. But we, like the disciples of Paul, are saints in the making. We will not be finished until we breathe our last. And even then we may well be in need of the purification that is purgatory.
Just as our prayer for the souls in purgatory should not be confined to the month of November, so our devotion to the saints must be a regular part of our spiritual lives as Catholics. I encourage you to take up one of the many fine anthologies of the saints and become familiar with their holy lives, especially those saints who are celebrated in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Seek their holy intercession as they worship at the heavenly throne. So often we ask our fellow Catholics to pray for us. How much more ought we to ask the prayers of those whose holiness has brought them face to face with God in heaven. Once again, the Constitution on the Church expresses our faith so beautifully:
“Exactly as Christian communion among pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head flow all grace and life of the people of God itself. It is most fitting, therefore, that we love those friends and co-heirs of Jesus Christ who are also our sisters and brothers and outstanding benefactors, and that we give due thanks to God for them, ‘humbly invoking them, and having recourse to their prayers, their aid and help in obtaining from God through his Son Jesus Christ, Our Lord, our only Redeemer and Savior, the benefits we need’” (no.50).
All you saints of God, pray for us.