When we enter a Catholic Church, there many images and statues of poeple who we call Saints. But, who are they and why are they important in the Catholic Faith?
A simple way of thinking about the Saints is that they are all the people in Heaven who have been canonised by the Church. This means that they are people who committed their lives to God in such a way that we can be sure they are now with God. Renowned saints of history serve as inspiration to the faithful, and as guides to the spiritual life, such as St. Teresa of Avila. They may be symbols of self-sacrificial love, such as St. Maximilian Kolbe. Figures like St. Edith Stein or St. Francis of Assisi fill the history of the Church, each one a life changed by and for God.
The great saints are often depicted as paragons of virtue and flawless believers, but each of them was a real and therefore flawed human being like you or me, who struggled to find the right way to live. Each of them suffered doubts, asked questions, and most importantly, made mistakes.
God doesn’t call people who have it all figured out - the powerful or the rich. In the Old and New Testaments, God consistently shatters people’s expectations by picking real wild-cards and problem cases for his prophets, apostles, and saints. All people are called to have a relationship with God.
As we read the Gospels, we find the disciples constantly prioritising prestige and power, and not quite getting the point. While they knew and loved Jesus, they made many mistakes, and almost all of them deserted him when he was arrested and crucified. The disciples failed at times, just as we all do, but that’s OK. We can learn almost as much from the flaws of the disciples as we can from the perfection of Jesus of Nazareth. Thanks to him, after failure and death, there is resurrection, life and redemption.
Living in faith isn’t about living perfectly, it's about practising resurrection everyday by picking ourselves up and making an amends when we mess up. After the Resurrection and Christ's Ascension into Heaven, those same frightened and flawed men and women became the saints of the Early Church and, with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, went on to be the leaders, teachers, and servants of all those who would join them.
In a broader sense, we are all called to be saints, as we are all working on our relationship with God and, through grace, living the values taught to us in the Gospels. In this way people talk about the Communion of Saints as the community of all the baptised.
This is the universal call to holiness: we are all capable of becoming saints. We are not perfect, and we do not have to be; the simple acts of putting it all back together is the path of everyday sainthood.
It is important to note that when we address a saint in prayer, we do not worship them. We are calling upon them to intercede on our behalf with God. It is a powerful form of prayer, and is deeply embedded in Catholic life. Many Catholics took a Saint's name at Confirmation, and enjoy a particular relationship with their saint. Here at the Catholic Enquiry Centre, we have a prayer where we ask Mary, Mother of God, St. Peter Chanel and St. Therese of Lisieux to pray for us.
Which saint embodies your interests and values? Which saint would you choose to intercede for you?