Today, there is a drastic loss of the faith from the heart of Western culture. Not only is there a virulent ignorance that feigns enlightenment, but a growing prejudice against all things religious. This includes many consciences that lack suitable formation to make moral judgments. Despite being available since the 1990’s, many have never opened the universal catechism. However, this should not surprise us as too many bibles also gather dust unread. The crisis is coming to a head today with the wholesale dismissal of the sacraments and poor attendance at Mass. Within this worldwide problem and wholesale defection, there has developed a seeming amnesia about our roots or history as witnessed by the saints.
Many people might remember hearing the names but are at a loss to supply content from the biographies of our holy men and women. Indeed, a number cannot even tell inquirers about their namesakes or confirmation saints. As a matter of a fact, there is the pervasive substitution of fable or fantasy for the real reasons why certain saints are held up by the Church. Who is St. Francis? “I think he talked to the animals like Doctor Doolittle.” Who is St. Clare? “Um, wasn’t she his girlfriend?” Who is St. Nicholas? “This one I know, he’s Santa who drives a sleigh of flying reindeer and brings toys to good boys and girls!” No, no and no! We have marvelous saints and yet these heroes of faith are becoming largely forgotten footnotes to history: St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Therese of Lisieux, and the list goes on and on. Indeed, even our American saints like St. Damien of Malachi, St. Mother Seton, St. Mother Cabrini, St. Katharine Drexel, Saint John Neumann and others fail to ring mental bells when mentioned. We are living during a dark age or a great “tabula rasa” when it comes to our faith and the Catholic legacy. All this is quite ironic given heighten efforts at catechesis and better texts to transmit the faith. However, learning requires more than access to the truth; there must first be a desire or attitude. Faith is a gift to which we must be properly disposed. If there is no fire for the truth and our holy religion then there will be no living faith and no more saints. This last point is important because we remember the saints for two reasons: (1) to find inspiration in their courage and sacrifices for our own witness and (2) to invoke their intercession for prayer and help in day-to-day struggles.
The images of saints in pictures, windows, statues and religious articles need be for more than background decoration or jewelry. There must be an evocative meaning in such things and that requires the enlightenment of faith. Too often we hear people discount the possibility of true holiness or discipleship by saying, “Well, I am no saint . . . .” Our response should be, why then are you not! We have the same sacraments and graces as did the great saints of old. What is stopping us? The answer is nothing but us. While the Church canonizes a few saints, the papal announcement merely certifies what God has done. The saints are not just clergy and religious but also the laity— men and women, rich and poor, every ethnicity, single and married, and with all sorts of occupations. The Blessed Mother aside, all the rest of the saints in the heavenly communion begin as sinners like us. Really what is a saint? A saint is a sinner forgiven by God. Saints are not saints because they are innately special— they are made so by God’s election and divine favor. The secret is to be open or disposed to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
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