At Home with Mary and the SaintsOctober 17th, 2012
People who are not Catholic sometimes wonder about Catholics’ devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the other saints. Catholic churches generally contain pictures and statues of Mary and the saints, often with vigil lights burning in front of them. Catholics will talk about their patron saints, or about praying to Saint Anthony when they have lost something. Sometimes they go on pilgrimage to Fatima or Lourdes or to the shrine of Saint Anne de Beaupre in Canada.
Occasionally, it seems that Catholics are more at home with the saints than they are with the Lord. Being in touch with Mary and the saints is one of the distinguishing elements of the Catholic culture. It’s an important part of being a practicing Catholic.
Catholic devotion to Mary and the other saints and Catholic confidence in the intercession and help of the saints for us are ways in which we express our family awareness and loyalty. Being Catholic is never a matter of just me and Jesus. It’s always we and Jesus, and the “we” includes Mary, the Mother of God, and all the other saints. We’re all part of the same family. We somehow all belong together.
The most honored of the saints is Mary, the Mother of God. Mary is, in many ways the original saint because she came to know and accept Jesus first of all. She shared his life from beginning to end and now occupies a special place with him in heaven. Because of her special place in the earthly and risen life of Jesus, she has a special place in the Lord’s family. Because she is Jesus’ mother, she is everybody else’s mother, too.
Catholics pray to Mary under many different titles: Mother of Mercy, Mother of Good Counsel, Refuge of Sinners, Queen of Peace. In fact, there is a special prayer, the Litany of the Blessed Mother, which contains nearly fifty different titles under which Mary is invoked. This richness of address indicates the breadth and variety of Mary’s virtues. It also indicates that Catholics look on Mary in many different lights, under many aspects, depending on our state at any given time and the needs for which we are asking her help. Mary’s many titles also suggest that there is so much to admire and imitate about our mother that one way of speaking of her simply isn’t enough.
Then there are the other saints, almost without number. One of the learned works on the saints runs to twelve large volumes, and a handbook that gives special attention to saints of the English-speaking world runs to 514 pages and contains about 1,500 entries. There are all kinds of saints: popes and bishops and priests, laywomen and men, religious sisters and brothers and monks. There are saints that were kings and emperors and saints who were beggars; saints who astounded the world with their learning and saints who couldn’t read and write.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating factors of this great family to which we belong is its variety. You don’t have to be of a certain personality type to be a saint. You don’t have to come from a certain country. You don’t have to have undertaken a certain prescribed set of religious practices. The one thing that all saints have in common, both those who have been officially declared saints by the church through the process of canonization and the other citizens of heaven who have not received official attention, is their love for the Lord Jesus and their dedication to him. Given that, the only limits to the variety of the saints are the limits of human diversity.
Photo Credit: University of Dayton, used with permission