November 1 is All Saints Day. In the Preface for the Mass for All Saints Day, Catholics pray this prayer to God about His saints, “Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength.” At every Mass Catholics pray to be worthy to join the saints “on whose constant intercession we rely for help.” They help us by interceding with God on our behalf. We ask for their help just as we might ask a friend on Earth to pray for us.
What is a saint? The Catholic Catechism defines saints as those who are canonized “by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace.” By doing so, “the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.” (CCC 828).
Christians have professed their belief in the “communion of saints” ever since the formulation of the Nicene Creed in 325 A.D. Even though they are dead, the saints are still a part of our community of the living. They are our companions in prayer and examples of holiness.
Catholics keep images and statues of the saints as their ancestors in the faith to remind them of the saints’ friendships and to inspire them to holiness. These reminders are like photographs of our deceased relatives that are kept for the same purposes.
However, saints are not simply pious plaster statues standing on pedestals. Moreover, not all of them come from the same mold. They were real unique human beings who suffered from the human condition and their own faults and failings. They had many of the same human problems as we do. We can learn a lot from reading about them.
A saint is an authentic, concrete person. His or her testimony of life attracts, beseeches and draws, because it manifests a transparent human experience, full of the presence of Christ. A saint is an ordinary person who knows, loves and serves God to the best of his or her ability in the here and now. The lives of the saints make good stories. They led real, believable, exciting and human lives. They are our models in holiness and each one of us is called to this same holiness.
The saints and blesseds of the United States have received their recognition through their canonizations and beatifications. They were both men and women, priests, nuns, virgins, religious brothers (Rene Goupil), single (Jean de la Lande), and married (Elizabeth Ann Seton). They represent all of the states of life recognized by the Church: single, married, religious and clergy.
Many people think that saints must perform great miracles during their lifetimes – healing the blind, the deaf and the lame, delivering demons, and raising the dead. None of the American saints performed any miracles like these during their lifetimes. They simply performed their apostolic work, did their daily duty, prayed, and practiced penance, chastity and a virtuous life. They were ordinary Americans, if not by birth, by adoption, they had the “can do” spirit of Americans and they accomplished typically American great works.
When St. Katharine Drexel did the Grand Tour of Europe with her family, her governess wrote to her and expressed her hope that she would return as a loyal American. Katharine replied, “Don’t be worried on that score, Miss Cassidy, for I am now and will be more of an American than ever on my return. I love my country with all my heart, the people, the habits, the cities, everything!”
St. John Paul II said, “The saints are the true expression and the finest fruits of America’s Christian identity. In them, the encounter with the living Christ is so deep and demanding . . . that it becomes a fire which consumes them completely and impels them to build His kingdom. . . . Their example of boundless dedication to the cause of the Gospel must not only be saved from oblivion, but must become better and more widely known among the faithful of the continent.” (Pope John Paul II, The Church in America, No. 15).
You can learn about their “example of boundless dedication to the cause of the Gospel”, as St. John Paul II wrote, and answer his hope that they “become better and more widely known” by reading my book, Saints of the States. Please click here and order your copy today.