The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 30: All Saints
Well, hi there, friends. In today’s episode, we are talking all about saints, and if you were born and raised Catholic, you probably have a long history of stories surrounding the saints: the process of finding your Confirmation name, the strong devotions of your parents or grandparents to particular saints, maybe the Novenas and special prayers they may have prayed. Maybe you remember pictures of saints adorning the walls of your childhood home in a place of real honor, like St. Patrick or Mother Teresa, Padre Pio, and you remember thinking, what is the big deal about this person we have never met? And, of course, there are the stained-glass windows, the places where the two-dimensional versions of these holy people seem to live, unmoving and solemn, in perpetuity in our churches. If you were born and raised Catholic, you have probably heard a priest in a homily tell that story about a little boy who spontaneously provided the perfect definition of a saint after mass one day. Looking up at a stained-glass window, as the story goes, the boy (it always does seem to be a boy) anyway, he says, “I know what a saint is! A saint is someone who lets the light shine through!” And you know what, that definition is a pretty good starting point for our conversation today.
According to the dictionary, a saint is a person acknowledged as holy and virtuous and typically regarded as being in Heaven after their death. A secondary definition has a saint as a very virtuous, kind, or patient person, like, ‘you’d have to be a saint to live with so-and-so’. Anyway, when I was a kid, I believed saints were sinless, which is a pretty high bar to live up to for a kid in, like, 4th grade CCD, but I was wrong about that, actually. Sinfulness or the lack of it is not even part of the definition of a saint. Does that surprise you? In the Catholic Church, a saint is someone who has led a life of heroic virtue, including the four cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, as well as the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. According to the Church, a saint displays all of these qualities in a consistent and exceptional way.
Further, a “saint” is literally anyone in Heaven, whether they are recognized as a saint on earth or not, and they form the great cloud of witnesses that is referred to in the Book of Hebrews. So, you and I have, I pray, many friends in Heaven today and just for the sake of semantics, I’ll repeat: if a soul is in heaven, they are a saint.
And if they are a saint, they and us are part of the Communion of Saints, which is a fellowship between Christians who are living and Christians who are dead. That means we’re still connected, we can talk to them, and they can help us. And oh, I have a whole gang of saints I talk to on a regular basis. My Mom, my friend Julie, Fr. Joe, Saint Therese, St. Francis. There is a line-up of saints I picture at the altar during the Eucharistic prayers of every mass I attend, including Jay, Bryan, Rich, Don, Jerry, and Anna. I pray for their families and their intentions and I ask them to pray for me and mine as well. The Communion of Saints is one of the most life-giving parts of my Catholic faith. The theology is beautiful, real, rich, and meaningful and I’m so grateful for the knowledge that our Heavenly friends are accessible to us still.
When it comes to the Church’s process to name saints, maybe it’s best to start with our very good intentions. If we know the stories of holy women and men who’ve lived before us, this can help us to model our lives, to make hard choices as they often did, to prioritize living for Christ over living in the world, and that’s all so good. I’m so glad I know about Augustine and his long and bumpy road, or Therese whose small, personal spirituality incredibly made her a Doctor of our Church. I’m glad I know about the mysticism of Catherine of Siena. So, it’s no wonder that we organize causes for canonization for the lives who inspire us today – we want to spread the word about them, and to honor and elevate the work that they did while they were here. But that administrative process is expensive, long, rigorous and filled with the kinds of issues you might expect when a group of human people are tasked with determining the value and quality of another human life by committee, over time. I think of 15th century spiritual writer Thomas a Kempis who didn’t make it to official sainthood because when his body was exhumed and examined, they found scratch marks and splinters of wood under his fingernails and determined that a saint would have peacefully accepted his death after being buried alive. I’m not sure about that. Or the case of St. Christopher who was dropped from the saint rolls in the early 70s when they couldn’t verify that he was actually a person and not a legend. Oh, you didn’t know St. Christopher’s not a saint anymore? I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that, friend, but you can hold on to that medal! I would!
Saints inspire us to want to live better, more holy lives though, again, they are not perfect. Author Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Saints are sinners who keep on trying.” I love that definition. The recognized saints get a feast day and this pattern on the calendar encourages us to remember them as part of a cycle – that’s a helpful rhythm for me, and maybe the best thing about it is that it helps us remember our own lives, our own legacy. In January, I can be inspired by Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and consider the impact of my own work. In August, I can note the back-to-back feast days of mother-son duo Monica and Augustine and consider my own mothering, my own children. In all of it, we can take a pause and consider how we are living, how we want to be remembered, and the ways in which our choices today will tell our stories when our journeys are done. Recognizing the saints gives us a high level, birds’ eye view of our own lives, not by our sinfulness or lack of it, but of what values and goals are steering our lives today.
Saint Pope John Paul II once said, “It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
The saints, those recognized and those who aren’t, allowed Jesus to lead them into lives of greatness, and this may not have been greatness as the world sees it, maybe not actually, but in prioritizing God, putting Him first, allowing Him to lead us in our work, study, and action. Finally, in simply letting the light shine through us as we live our daily lives. What more could be asked of us, friend, really? And there’s a whole crowd cheering us on as we do exactly that, in the audience and from the wings as we live our short time out here on the stage. As it says in the Book of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Friends, in this challenging time, it may be all we can do to not grow weary and lose heart, I know that all too well, but I hope it’s an encouragement for you to know that in this race, we are absolutely not running alone.
Thanks so much for listening today, friend. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. As always, I have resources for you in today’s show notes that might help you to explore this topic in a deeper way but for now, let us pray.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Dear God and the Holy Communion of Saints, especially those whose names we took at Confirmation (shout out here to Elizabeth), as we run our race, please give us the wisdom, clarity and perseverance we need to run well. Thank you for your kind assistance until the day when we see one another face-to face. For us and our dear ones we pray in the name of Jesus, amen.
Okay friends, thanks again for listening and I’ll see you next time.