once heard a priest refer to everyone he met as a “saint.” At first it struck
me as odd, but once I thought about it, I realized he was right. At the least,
such a greeting can inspire us to live up to the challenge of being saints.
On November 1, Catholics celebrate All Saints Day, a day to honor
all of the Church’s saints—both known and unknown. In other words, we honor all
of those people we formally know as saints and those people we meet every day
who are living exemplary Christian lives. The following day, the Church
celebrates All Souls Day, a remembrance of all the faithful departed.
The Essential Catholic
Handbook: A Summary of Beliefs, Practices and Prayers, by John O’Connor,
defines a saint this way: “In the wide sense, any person known for Christian
holiness; in the strict sense, a person who has manifested heroic devotion
during his or her life and who is officially honored by the Church as one who
has attained heavenly glory and as one through whom God freely chooses to
exhibit exceptional generosity.”
Becoming a Saint
The Catholic Church has been formally recognizing saints
since the second century. At that time, individuals became saints based more on
popular demand than any sort of formal process. Because of this, the list of
saints grew quickly.
Reforms instituted at Vatican II pared down the list of saints
celebrated worldwide in the liturgy. The “saint-making” process, overseen by
the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has also been revised.
There are three steps necessary for a person to become a saint.
First, the person must be named Venerable, which means he or she exhibited
heroic virtues in life. Before moving on to beatification, the person must have
a miracle attributed to him or her. Once such a miracle is confirmed, the person
is known as Blessed. For the final step before canonization, the individual
must have yet another miracle attributed to his or her intercession—unless he
or she was a martyr for the faith. Only then is a person canonized and added to
the list of saints.
Often people will say Catholics worship saints. Actually, it’s
more of a “looking up to” them as examples of how we should live. Paintings or
statues of these saints serve as visual reminders for us to emulate the saints
in our own lives. We pray to saints for their intercession, which is like
asking a friend of God to ask God for a favor.
Celebrating the Saints
Saints play an important role in our Catholic faith. Here are
some ways your family can recognize the Church’s saints and those saints in
your own lives:
Pick a family saint. Find a saint
whose life resonates with your family. Read about the saint’s life, pray
through him or her and celebrate your saint’s feast day.
Want to know which saint’s feast day is today, tomorrow
or yesterday? Check out Saint
of the Day, an online collection of saints for every day
of the year. You can search the database by name, date or
patron. Catholic Online
also offers a lot of information on saints.
Celebrate your role in the Church’s
communion of saints. Pray for friends and family—both alive and dead—and learn
from their lives. These everyday saints can teach us as much about holiness as
those saints who are formally recognized by the Church.
Remember, though, that just because someone has been declared a
saint doesn’t mean he or she didn’t have
struggles. Many holy people—including saints—have wrestled with
temptations ranging from anger to prejudice to substance abuse. In fact, St.
Bernadette once said of the saints, “Don’t tell me their virtues; tell me their
weaknesses and how they overcame them!”
Many parishes have books where you can
place the names of loved ones who have died for remembrance in prayer. Enter
the names of your family’s deceased relatives or friends. The invitation to do
this is often extended in November.
When your family is gathered together, recite and reflect on this prayer
for holy men and women: “O God, you renew the Church in every
age by raising up men and women outstanding in holiness, living
witnesses of your unchanging love. They inspire us by their
heroic lives, and help us by their constant prayers to be
the living sign of your saving power.”
Next Month: Advent—The Waiting Game