Why the Saints?

Just to be clear right away, if you’re looking for a post on football, this isn’t it. I’m not talking about why you should be a fan of a certain football team that is known as “the Saints”. Obviously if I was going to write a post about why you should support a football team, it would be about the COLTS. 🙂

No, no, this is a follow-up post to my request for “good reads” the other day. When I mentioned that I was thinking of reading “My Life with the Saints” by James Martin, S.J., a few of you mentioned either wanting to read it, or having read and liked it. Since I already had it but hadn’t read it yet, I decided to give it a whirl.

Since Atticus and I share a car, and it’s been so hot lately (much to hot to walk 25 minutes one way to work) I have been hitching a ride to the Starbucks across the street from the library with him on his way downtown for work. I get there at about 8 a.m. (I don’t have to be at work until 9:30) and I get an iced coffee or tea and read. It’s quite nice actually. So I brought the book with me this week and have been enjoying it quite a bit over the last few mornings.

The gist of the book is that Fr. Martin (who was a badly Catechized cradle Catholic who drifted from the Church, worked in corporate America, hated it, had a conversion, and became a Jesuit priest — now he’s on the Colbert Report often!) writes a spiritual memoir, using the stories of Saints that he has encountered and prayed with during his life. Each chapter is devoted to a saint, but rather than being a biography of that saint, it is equal parts the story of the saint, and the story of how that saint impacted Fr. Martin. It’s very engaging and educational, but not too stiffly pious or overly intellectual.

Along with canonized saints, he includes chapters on what he calls “holy persons”; these are people who are not yet canonized saints (some examples are Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Pope John XXIII — whose body was uncorrupt when we saw it at the Vatican!). I like that he includes people who are (1) more contemporary and (2) not yet canonized. It makes for such an interesting read.

I wanted to share a portion from the Introduction, which is titled “The Saint of the Sock Drawer” (referring to a statue of St. Jude he kept in his sock drawer as a teen!). This passage seems to me a beautiful way of explaining the concept of the communion of the saints and why they matter.

“Each saint was holy in his or her unique way, revealing how God celebrates individuality. As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity: “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.”

This gave me enormous consolation, for I realized that none of us are meant to be Therese of Lisieux or Pope John XXIII or Thomas More. We’re meant to be oursevles, and meant to allow God to work in and through our own individuality, our own humanity. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, grace builds on nature.

Moreover, I found companions among the saints – friends to turn to when I needed a helping hand. The Catholic theologian Lawrence S. Cunningham, in his book The Meaning of Saints, suggests that the saints also serve as our “prophetic witnesses,” spurring us to live more fully as Christian disciples. Of course some might argue (and some do argue) that all you need is Jesus. And that’s true: Jesus is everything, and the saints understood this more than anyone.

But God in his wisdom has also given us these companions of Jesus to accompany us along the way, so why not accept the gift of their friendship and encouragement? And there’s no reason to feel as if devotion to the saints somehow takes away from your devotion to Jesus: everything the saints say and do is centered on Christ and points in his direction. One day as Mass in the novitiate chapel, I heard – as if for the first time – a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the saints: “You renew the Church in every age by raising up men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses of your unchanging love. They inspire us by their heroic lives, and help us by their constant prayers to be the living sign of your saving power.”    – Pg. 6-7

I couldn’t help but say amen after reading that prayer! I’m very much enjoying “My Life with the Saints” so far, and I’d recommend it to someone looking for a “good read”.

Thanks for all the other great suggestions, I have a long list of books now!

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5 thoughts on “Why the Saints?

  1. Thanks for this post! I might have to pick up his book. I’m always kind of confused about Fr. James. He seems like a good faithful priest, but I’ve heard a lot of “conservative” (I know you dislike that term!) Catholics complain he’s not faithful enough. He’s great on the Colbert Report- and I know Colbert is a Catholic… I just don’t know how faithful he is.

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