Some anti-Catholic apologists spurn our preoccupation with saints as if it might distract us from the centrality of Christ. However, in truth, our fascination with saints is a testimony of our corporate or communal understanding of faith— not a multitude of private relationships with Jesus but many personal friendships with the Lord in the context of a chosen faith community or Church. There is a profound communion of the saints that makes us adopted sons and daughters of the Father, kin to Christ, children of Mary in the royal household or family of God. This mystery is so profound, that given the resurrection, our unity in Christ cannot be broken even by the specter of death. Indeed, the sign of peace at Mass signifies this unity in Christ, yes with the local gathered community, but also with the whole People of God— the Church in pilgrimage on earth, the Church passing through purification in purgatory and the Church praising God in heavenly glory.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
While our church windows are simple squares of color, I am reminded of the story of a little girl who was asked the question, “Who are the saints?” Her church had wonderful stained-glass windows with depictions of the saints. Looking up to the windows, she responded, “The saints are the ones who allow the light to shine through.” Books written about saints were not as precise as was her answer. Yes, saints reflect the one who is the Light of the World. We see Christ in them. They show us many ways to walk in the one Way that is the Lord. Beyond a baptismal calling, all who are true Christian disciples receive varying vocations or callings. We must be properly disposed to hear and willing to respond. Every genuine response begins with a saving faith in Christ made real through loving obedience. The recent death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a testimony to this truth. He gave his whole life in service to the Church and sought to both penetrate the truths of the Gospel and to share them. However, after all was said and done— over 60 books written and countless essays and homilies preached— he summarizes it all with his last words, “Lord, I love you.” The saints of God love the Lord— more than the world and more than themselves. The resurrected Jesus asks the wounded Peter three times, “Do you love me?” It is in how we answer that question that we can be restored and empowered to live out our Christianity. If we were to see the Lord (face-to-face) today, what would be our honest response to that question? Could we say with a straight-face, “You know I love you!”
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