It has been a crazy busy week and I just realized that I haven't blogged since last Sunday. WOW! Another WOW was the reaction to last weeks blog both in the comments and through email and in person. Perhaps I put a different perspective on the subject for some and for the most part....people told me that after reading the blog, they seemed to have a clearer understanding of how Catholics viewed pedophilia and priests. All in all....I think I am satisfied that I did the subject justice.
It was requested that I take on another hot button topic this week, but instead I decided to go a different route and discuss a subject that often causes a rift between Catholics and Protestants greatly in part, due to a lack of understanding on the subject. Fear not though...I will likely tackle the hot button topic next week. We'll see how things go and what frame of mind I am in. ;)
Okay....so today I am going to talk about saints. Saints are a very important part of the Catholic church and an important part of my own life. Knowing that you have a saint praying with you can get you through some pretty bad times. Saints are also a very misunderstood part of the church for many on the outside looking in. Growing up in a Catholic home....especially with my Catholic mom....we learned about saints at very young age and in my family.....some of those poor saints haven't had a moments rest in years.
So just what or who is a saint and what do they mean to the Catholic church?According to my good friend Wiki.....the general term for Saint is "one who has been recognized for having an exceptional degree of holiness, sanctity, and virtue." To be viewed as a saint by the Roman Catholic church one must have all the above, be a baptized Catholic and have verified miracles attributed to them. I think this is where many outside the faith become lost, so let me clear up a few things before continuing. A saint is not looked on as God's equal nor are they worshiped in any manor. A saint cannot be a living person...but actions such as a healing that happened during their life can be investigated and after their death be part of the documentation that can lead to their eventual sainthood.
Contrary to popular belief not all saints started out good and virtuous. Some came to their holiness and sanctity through tough roads and hard life lessons. Others though...they began and ended life with obvious virtue and a holiness not only spiritually but also visible to all whom they came in contact with. One important thing that all saints do have in common....is an extreme willingness to accept God's will without question and an absolute understanding that this life is only a prelude to the next where their greatest desire is to spend eternity with God. Because of this...they are willing to pray, sacrifice, suffer and even die for the greater glory of God.
Saints come from all walks of life; from the very poorest to the richest and everything in between. Many ended up turning their back on all worldly and material possessions and choosing religious vocations as priests and nuns. Others lived their lives as mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors giving themselves wholey to God and His will. Some died very young and some lived to be quite elderly. Some died as martyrs and others died after living long lives of prayer, devotion and sacrifice. In the end though...all marked for sainthood were God's special ones whom He used to help spread His word and show the world that through God......all things are possible.
To become a saint....not only has their life been one of holiness, virtue and sanctity, but two "miracles" have to be documented and proven beyond any question. The final decision is made by church officials in the Vatican after much study. In the process of sainthood the individual in the third stage of investigation is declared by the Vatican to be Blessed. Only after all documentation has been presented and all other possibilities of what might have occurred other than the supposed miracle are exhausted by doctors and scientists....then and only then can the individual be declared a saint.
What exactly is a miracle? Anyone who believes in miracles knows that they happen all the time and are unexplainable incidents that happen often times.....after much prayer. However, a Vatican approved miracle is an undeniable and documented act (often a healing without medical explanation) that has no other explanation(including scientific) except the fact that God is working through an individual to bring about the act. Often miracles have happened after a saints death when a piece of their clothing, hair or a personal possession of theirs (these are called relics) is touched. By touching a relic of a saint....there have been many documented cures of diseases, blindness and even deathbed recoveries. A relic though is not necessary, for often simply asking for prayers of intercession from the saint can also bring on miracles.
This brings me to prayers for saints. A huge misconception of those outside the faith is that Catholics worship saints as gods, because we pray to them asking for miracles. This is simply not the case. We NEVER worship saints. We do however ask a saint or saints to pray with us! Saints don't just quit working for God after they die. They offer themselves to God in life and in death. Just as they prayed for those in need while on earth....they continue to pray for them in heaven and the fact that God still works through these special souls even after death is evident in the miracles He allows. Yes...I said He allows, for nothing happens through these humble individuals that God did not make possible. And as for Catholics viewing saints as God's contemporaries.....we know that these saints humbled themselves in life viewing themselves as God's servants. Even those who had miracles attributed to them in life always made it known that they themselves did nothing....that God was responsible for the miracle. ALWAYS GOD! They were merely the human vessel He used to make the miracle happen.
Possibly because these individuals worked so hard for God in life...this is the reason that there have been many documented cases of some saints maintaining an incorruptible body even after the soul is gone. In the book The Incorruptibles by Joan Carroll Cruz, there are many stories as well as pictures of the bodies of saints who after years and sometimes even centuries their human bodies remain incorrupt or undecayed without the assist of embalming. This my friends is a miracle all on its own and again....another reminder that God is in control.
So what do saints mean to the Catholic Church? Saints are people just like you and I....and they never quit trying. They had their sites set on heaven and gave themselves over to God body, mind and soul. These holy souls are the teachers and role models of the church. They have shown us true love, devotion and humility for God. They have given of themselves in every way possible and have brought about conversions and brought many closer to God with their undying faith and purity of heart. It is for these reasons that when we receive the sacrament of Confirmation (remember the Seven Sacraments I talked about a while back?) which makes us official soldiers of Christ....that we choose a saints name as our religious name. Mine is St. Bernadette. They become our special saint and for most become the saint whose intercession is called upon the most.
What many don't realize is that each saint had a special purpose in life and in death they continued to be associated with certain things. Examples of this are St. Anthony who is the finder of lost articles, St. Jude who is known as the Saint of the Impossible and St. Joseph who is the saint of workers. As a kid...if I ever lost anything (and I was always losing something) St. Anthony was my go-to guy. Mom always told me to ask St. Anthony to help me look and it never failed.....I would always find it and usually in a place I had already looked. As an adult....St. Anthony and I are best buds as after 50 years....I still lose everything I touch and he still spends many a day helping me find it all. I have also called upon St. Joseph for prayers when I needed a job and no job could be found. And finally....I am almost positive that St. Jude runs for cover every time life throws one of those impossible situations at me....because he knows he will be hearing from me sooner rather than later. I was explaining all of this to someone once and they said..."you talk about them (the saints) as if they were friends." It made me smile because really I had never thought about it like that before, but the reality is....spiritually....they are my friends and I am blessed to have such friends to turn to and to pray with me.
The saints are a rich part of our church history and even in our modern times....our lives are still being touched by saints and saints are still being canonized. One who is very close to my heart is St. Pio who died in 1968 and was canonized in 2002. What a holy man who spiritually never left my side while my son was in the NICU. Another who is well on her way to sainthood is Mother Teresa who died in 1997. In 2003 she was beatified (she became Blessed Teresa) and there is every belief that the woman who lived a life of poverty, holiness, compassion for others and great virtue will soon be proven a saint in the Roman Catholic church. Finally....one of my favorite candidates is Father Emil Kapaun. Father Kapaun who died in1951 has been declared a Servant of God by the Roman Catholic church (the first step of sainthood) and the miraculous recovery of a young man named Chase Kear who happens to be from Father Kapauns home state of Kansas(a favorite state of mine too might I add) is being investigated.Yes...Father Kapaun holds a special place in my heart and he too hears from me quite often.
So as you see....saints are not viewed by Catholics as god's to be worshiped. The reality is that they are servants of God who devoted their lives to His will and they are viewed as role models in their grace and sanctity. They are our friends in prayer and ones that God chose to work miracles through...not by their power....but by His.
Okay....so what do saints mean to me? They give me hope. By the very existence of saints I am made aware that God will never give up on me and ever so often He chooses someone very special to remind us that He is here, He is listening and that miracles really do exist. They give me comfort knowing that when I pray.....I never pray alone....I always pray with a friend. Finally.....they give me strength, for if a poor girl from Lourdes could overcome the ridicule and doubt of others, could dig a spring responsible for hundreds of thousands of miracles and humbly serve God through excruciating pain....then whatever God has planned for me...I shall gratefully accept. As St. Bernadette quoted our Lord: "I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next."
So perhaps now there is a little better understanding of saints and how Catholics view them. I hope by now many of you who have had preconceived ideas about Catholicism and how we believe..... are starting to see that our religion is one of great love and faith to Our Lord. We have many beautiful traditions in the Mass and in our prayers. We are blessed with role models hand picked by God and we have learned that life often requires that we stand on faith alone...and yet we are never alone. There are so many reasons I love my faith and writing this Sunday blog continues to remind me just what a lucky girl I am to be a part of a such a beautiful faith. So I will end this blog with my favorite quote...one you have likely seen me use before if you have read my other blogs. "For those who believe...no explanation is necessary. For those who do not....no explanation is possible."