Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 30, 2000
Why have so many saints?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Pope John Paul seems to be canonizing so many saints, often obscure individuals. What good are saints anyway?
True, this pope has canonized more saints than any pope in more recent times and, I believe, more than all of recent popes put together. And it's true that most of them are pretty unknown to us but they are not unknown to everybody.
Canonization is a process requested and pursued by those interested in the canonization of that individual.
What good do saints do? Prior to Vatican II, we had an almost superstitious-like devotion to the intercession of the saints. Then, with a strongly focused attention to Christ and the Scriptures, many of us dropped the saints like a hot potato. But we needn't have done so.
The communion of saints is important enough to be included as one of the elements of our belief which we express in the Creed each time we pray it. All Saints (Nov. 1) is a feast day. Therefore, we need to take a closer look at the saints and what they could mean to us.
The communion of saints is a powerful symbol of our connectedness to all those who have gone before us who now have new life in God, as well as a profound connection to all living persons and to the earth itself.
The communion of saints speaks of our communal participation in the holiness and love of God, of our sharing in the sacredness of life itself.
Practically speaking, therefore, we are not isolated no matter how alone we think we are. All we have to do is think of that marvellous array of friends of God in heaven and on earth who are our friends also. We can just glow and grow in their love and friendship.
Who are these saints? We hear of a number of them in the Eucharistic prayers. Many of these are not "canonized" saints as they are early Christian martyrs and saints who were considered holy long before the formal process we now know as canonization had begun.
There are saints who have been formally canonized in the last several centuries. Some are popes and bishops and a goodly number are founders of religious orders of men and women.
When we stop to think of these founders, we realize that many of the orders they founded gave us our Catholic hospitals, schools and other works of mercy that still exist today. That helps us relate to them.
Many others are unknowns who will never be canonized, those who have lived holy lives under difficult circumstances and those who seemingly led ordinary lives under ordinary circumstances.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson in a recent book, Friends of God and Prophets, offers us a model for reviving a dynamic understanding of saints as friends of God, living creative fidelity in everyday life, thanks to the life-giving work of the Spirit.
Many people we have known and know fall into this company of the redeemed, including ourselves.
Brian Doyle, author of the book Credo, suggests that we need to edit the calendar of the saints to make it more effective and understandable. After all, our faith is centred on a storyteller (Jesus) and based on stories written (Scripture) and told (tradition).
So he suggests, for example, the Apostle Thomas on Dec. 21 could be listed as: "Feast of the guy who just had to put his fingers in Christ's side so becoming the patron saint of all who waiver in their faith which is to say all of us." Think about it.
By remembering the saints and retelling their stories, we bring the compassion for others which they exercised for the love of God into our own lives and into our world. They are remembered as a blessing, as a call to action and fidelity in our lives, as examples for us, and for the strength which their witness gives us in our own daily struggles.
They become our companions on the journey and a symbol of the effective presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.