Who wants to be a saint? I suppose at one time or another in our lives we have wanted to be that someone special – a saint-holy and perfect–but then reality sets in and we realise that we have feet of clay. . . Any yet many of the saints in heaven lived less than perfect lives. Take Saint Augustine, for example, he knew his mother was praying for his conversion and so he prayed, ‘Save me Lord, but not yet’. In the end his mother’s prayers resulted in his conversion and today he is recognised as a Doctor of the Christian Church, thanks to his valuable contributions in philosophy and theology.
For most of us, Augustine is a little far removed from the realities of daily life. As a child, it was the life stories and seemingly miraculous events surrounding the lives of Bernadette, Thérèse of Lisieux, Marie Goretti and the three children of Fatima that resonated with me. Their ordinariness helped me relate to them but at the same time their lives pointed beyond the ordinary to the extra-ordinary. It was as if they ‘proved’ by their love of God and their simplicity and holiness that God did truly exist.
Indeed, saints are seen by many as God’s intermediaries, and for centuries, young and old have prayed and continue to pray to them for comfort, inspiration and miracles. There seems to be a saint for every eventuality, for every job, for anything or anyone people thought could do with spiritual intervention. People called on saints to help everyone from artists (Catherine of Bologna) to those with financial problems (Saint Matthew) and as patrons of everything from childbirth (Gerard Majella) to whales (Brendan the Navigator) to plead their case before God!
Researching Saints for our website showed me that saints come in many shapes and forms – from the devotedly religious at an early age, to those who give up everything for God, including in many cases their lives, to those who separate themselves from the world and live a mystic life, to those who move courageously into the world to serve others.
Just as Jesus said there are ‘many rooms in my Father’s house’ (Jn 14:2) the number of canonised saints seem to be increasing year on year. Would you believe that the three most recent Popes canonised a total of 1375 saints! That number far exceeds the combined total of saints canonised since 1588, the year the Congregation for saints began.
Why is this? Is it because the church canonises people to reward them or is it more likely that saints serve to instruct the faithful in what holiness looks like and encourage them to be holy themselves? Do the saints point the way to heaven? Do they remind us that we too are called to be holy – to be saints?
Vatican 11 in Lumen Gentium 39 stresses that not only clergy and religious but also laypeople can be saints. We are all called to holiness, to be saints by virtue of our baptism.
Pope Francis explains it thus, ‘everyone is called to holiness in their own state of life’ He reminds people that it is ‘by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints.
Perhaps the saints, those canonised and those we know and love among our family and friends who are, we know among the saints in heaven, perhaps they shine a light on how to live our lives, loving God and neighbour and thus become a saint.
Mary O’ Boyle is Diocesan Advisor for Post Primary Schools, Diocese of Derry.
Link to Saints Section on this website Category: Saints | Catechetical Centre