Monday, August 30, 2010

Why the Saints?

The question of the saints and why they are included and mentioned so often in Catholicism was recently posed to me. One of the best parts of college was the open dialogue and friendships I have had with serious Protestants who asked me real questions about Catholicism that push me to explain and thus understand my faith in different terms. I can't assume we're on the same page, even though we share Christendom. As a cradle Catholic, there are so many aspects of my faith I take for granted.

Mary, the Mother of God, for example. She is a second mother to me, who I can turn to in prayer for comfort and guidance. She is a role model and I try to emulate her emphatic use of "yes!" to God's call in her life. There are some serious misunderstandings of Mary. I have been told Catholics worship Mary. Statues and pictures of Mary have been equated to idolatry, as does praying the rosary. I have been asked why Mary matters.

All fair questions, but to lay the foundation: Catholics only worship Jesus Christ, not Mary, and we do that through the sacraments, specifically the Eucharist, where Jesus is tangibly present.

Simply put, how does one way to really get to know a guy? You get to know his mother. Ad Jesum per Mariam- to Jesus through Mary. 

DF was in D.C. again this past summer and jokingly asked me why there are so many pictures of her in the Cathedral. Well, I replied, it's the House of God, right? And Mary's His mother. He better have pictures of his Mom hanging up all over or someone is going to get a talking to! The same goes for saints. Pictures of them are considered the same as keeping pictures of family members of the mantle at home. A person doesn't worship those pictures- but they are a physical reminder. It's not enough to have a memory of them; some people need to see it to believe it, and that's not a weakness. Even Jesus allowed Thomas to touch his wounds.

Catholics don't pray to "dead people." If one believes in a Heaven, it should not be a far stretch to say those in Heaven are alive in the Body of Christ and praying for us down on Earth. (In Purgatory too, but that's a different discussion!) They pray that we turn our hearts towards God so that we may one day join them with Him in celestial splendor. They are family, like brothers and sisters, as God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, with Mary as the Mother and Queen of Heaven. For Catholics, it is considered no different to ask for their prayers and intercession any more than to ask one's family and friends to pray here on Earth.

That's why I love reading about the lives of saints. They were fallen, just like the rest of us, and yet they strove to say "yes!" to the call of Christ and do His will over their own. We read about their life just like we like reading about famous people and listening to stories about family members- because they teach us about them, about ourselves and about our purpose.

Today, for example, is the feast of St. Rose of Lima. She is the first American to become a saint and is the patron of Latin America and the Philippines. She was born in 1586 and died in 1617. My little sister Megan wants to take this beautiful saint as her Confirmation name, and for good cause. Here is a little from her bio:

Rose had many temptations from the devil, and there were also many times when she had to suffer a feeling of terrible loneliness and sadness, for God seemed far away. Yet she cheerfully offered all these troubles to Him. In fact, in her last long, painful sickness, this heroic young woman use[d] to pray: "Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase Your love in my heart."

One of Longfellow's poems ends, "Lives of great men all remind us,/ we can make our lives sublime,/ and, departing, leave behind us,/ footprints on the sands of time.

Isn't this the same for saints as it is with the secular set? When mediocrity is becoming a standard and sensationalism a virtue? Can there be no greater desire now than to counter the culture by asserting that there is more to this life than thrills and making ourselves happy? We humans are an inifinite vessel. We can either pour effort into making ourselves happy or give ourselves towards the service of others. My Dad told me that having [six] kids made him love more ways than he thought possible-- and trust me when I say his graying hair is not just a result of age.

I find I am (usually) happier when I am serving others, be it helping a sibling with homework or dinner dishes duty or the homeless man by work whom I buy a newspaper from every other week. Helping others distracts attention from one's self, both of which is innately petty and self-gratifying, of which I am guilty. I miss living with Bear, for example, because I could always find small things to help her, even if it was only providing her coffee before a long night of studying. It may not be the immediate thought, but like all things, if a person turns their mind and actions deliberately towards goodness and servitude, it will become so.

This is what the saints did too. They looked up from the mud and smiled at the stars. They kept their focus on Christ. They served His people so as to serve Him. They banished vanities because they distracted and detracted. There have been so many times when I am trolling the internet and have to stop and say, Is this really the best use of my time? The internet isn't bad and I love the amount of information at my disposal, but the amount of time spent in its service can be too much. It's amazing how time is clawed at by wants and desires.

Today St. Rose reminded me to rejoice in my little crosses of the day. To keep them to myself and relish in small accomplishments and disciplines. I've been enjoying the British Florence + the Machine's "The Dog Days are Over" recently. I especially like the first stanza: "Happiness hit her like a train on a track/ Coming towards her/ stuck still/ no turning back."

The music video is surreal and odd, but the song is poppy and infectious:

That line reminds me of something Ronald Knox wrote in "The Hidden Stream: Mysteries of the Christian Faith" (an amazing book, I cannot more highly recommend it). In the second chapter, when discussing whether we need proof of God, he ends by saying, irregardless of if we want to believe it, God is everywhere.

I think that is so beautiful. To many, it is a "duh" statement. To others, it is a Homer Simpson statement ("D'oh!"). I've heard the sentiments many times: how can God exist if children are starving/ bad people are allowed to do bad things/ etc. Flannery O'Conner said that evil is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured. How should that change a person's perspective on the world? Seeing the world not as a cage but as a creation and manifestation of God; looking at every person as a fellow soul; knowing that this too shall pass.

That's what else the saints can teach us. We are not made for this world, but another. This does not mean humanity is in a waiting room killing time, but the world is where one prepares one's mind and body. A person shouldn't go to class without prepping for the lecture, nor do a job without training. The same goes for Heaven- an eternity of worshiping the Almighty needs a life of freely-chosen devotion to God, not forced or begrudged participation, like an indentured servitude.

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, since we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we are clearly apparent to God, and I hope we are also apparent to your consciousness.
-2 Corinthians 5:10-11

Today I am writing on Ohio's 'Race to the Top' money and am happy to be out of the heat (for now). I'll ponder and admire sidewalk cracks, old couples ambling and yappy dogs on my bike ride home; but for now, back to work!

1 comment:

  1. Julie,
    one of the best parts of knowing the people I do from college is the open dialogue and friendships I have with Christians of other traditions. Posts like this simultaneously challenge my still-misty perspective of God's kingdom and encourage. Thanks!