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Why the Saints?

I’m glad you asked




THREE MINUTES WITH THE SAINTS by Paul Combs



Since I’m a month into this series on the saints and have officially moved it to Sunday from Monday, it’s probably time to explain why I’m doing it at all (if you’re looking for the Sunday Rant, that moved to Saturday). Why write about the saints? Do they even matter in the 21st century? I believe they do, but before getting into why, let’s dispel a few common myths about them.


The biggest myth, held by both many Catholics and non-Catholics alike, is that we worship the saints. We absolutely do not; worship is reserved for God alone. We do, however, venerate the saints, much as you would honor any person of great note. For example, Texas A&M fans across the country are honoring Seth Small today for kicking the field goal that beat #1 Alabama yesterday, but they are not worshiping him (well, maybe a few hardcore Aggies are). My pastor would say I come perilously close to worshiping Bruce Springsteen, but he’s a Franciscan and I think he leans more toward the Beatles anyway.


We also do not pray to the saints in the same way we pray to God. We pray to the saints in the sense of asking for their intercession; in other words, asking them to pray for us and with us (more on this one in a moment). Finally, the saints are not holy good luck charms. Burying a statue of St. Joseph in your yard will not help you sell your house faster, no matter what your sweet Italian grandmother tells you.


Those myths out of the way, why do we need the saints at all (especially if they don’t bring good luck)? We need them because we all need examples and role models in every endeavor in life, including (maybe especially) in our spiritual journey. There is no better way to get help in our Christian walk than to look at those who did it, and did it well, before us.


The concept of saints is a very biblical one, in case you thought they were something the Church made up out of thin air. The “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews refers to the saints listed in Hebrews Chapter 11 and to all the saints in heaven up to this very moment. St. Paul says in Romans 1:7, “to all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”


While we are all called to be saints, there have been specific people down through history whom the Church has recognized as Saints (with a capital S). These are the saints I’m referring to here, the ones whose intercession we seek as I mentioned above, and I should probably explain that a little more in depth, especially for my Protestant friends.


The average non-Catholic would balk at the idea of asking a saint to intercede for them, or put another way, to pray for them, yet that same person has no problem asking their friends and family to pray for them. Well, that friend or neighbor may or may not actually pray for you, but the saints absolutely will, and they’re already in the presence of God. They won’t forget, or be too sleepy, or just tell you they’ll pray for you so they don’t look like heathens; our friends might do this, but not the saints.


Best of all, the saints are our friends. If believers who came before us are alive in heaven, which every Christian denomination believes they are, then the saints live on and can be as much a friend to us as anyone we know. They went through life just as we’re doing now, faced trials, had joys and sufferings, raised families, and ultimately, despite shaky beginnings for many of them, served Christ with their whole being. Why wouldn’t you want to get to know someone like that?


This brief article is by no means a full theological explanation of the saints; I’m no theologian and I’m trying to keep it close to a three-minute read. It’s simply meant as a starting point for this series on the saints for those who are interested. That interest may be religious, historical, or simply curiosity about that neighbor with the Virgin Mary bird feeder. Whatever your motivation, thanks for reading. This article and all the others in the series can be found through the link at the bottom. Have a great Sunday, and I’ll leave you with this quote from the French novelist Leon Bloy:


“The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”


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