Saints in the family
Growing up in the stripped-down American church, we never learned about saints. So when the discussion came up recently, I could recall the thoughts that went through my own mind years ago when I was trying to understand why we pray to them. Back then, I didn’t see the point when all I needed to do was pray to God. But something interiorly would move me in me, and I knew that I was wrong on that.
What I discovered is that the saints are our family, our elders. Rather than getting in the way of our relationship with God, they help us build it. In my birth family, I had my own relationship with my father. But I also knew more about him by observing him relating to my mother and siblings. And so it is with our Holy family too.
God even has planned for us certain saints to help us throughout life. Our saints are part of our rich family heritage. As Catholics, our culture is universal and not tied to any one tribe or region. Our heritage is as old as time and lasts through eternity. We continue the practice of bonding with our ancestors by taking on a saint’s name.
Names mean a lot. God’s giving of names in scripture signifies covenant and relationship. In most cultures, names are important to passing down heritage through the generations. Our given name (why do we call it our first name?) used to be chosen to tie us to our ancestry. So I ask myself am I true to my saint-name? Am I honoring my elders? Dignifying my colleagues? Marie Antoinette even apologized to her executioners … why is it so hard for me to eat humble pie? St. Ignatius of Loyola teaches us to always prefer that which gives God the greater glory, and let God decide what that is for each of us. Yet the lesser of two good choices always begs attention, enticing me with the easier way rather than God’s way.
Bold saints like 7th century Bl. Pepin of Landen give a model of attitude for today’s culture wars: “a lover of peace, the constant defender of truth and justice, a true friend to all servants of God, the terror of the wicked, the support of the weak, the father of his country, the zealous and humble defender of religion.” I’m sure he never expected to be the father of St. Gertrude, great grandfather to warriors against Islam, and great great grandfather of Charlemagne. He probably just went about his duties and tasks every day trying to figure out what God wanted of him. Not too different from our own lives today.
Let us also intercede for those who are involved in some transgression, that forbearance and humility may be given them, so that they may submit, not to us but to the will of God. (St. Clement I, Letter to the Corinthians, c.95)
Let us live true to our name, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. 😊