Studying the saints in Catholic school religion class, I didn’t believe I was anything like them. They seemed as remote as they were holy: Perfect people living perfect lives.
So when Matthew Kelly based this year’s “Best Lent Ever” program of daily inspirational videos on examples from his book, “Rediscover the Saints,” my beliefs about the saints were challenged. And because I’m spending more time reading as I isolate during the coronavirus pandemic, now is a great time to learn more about the saints.
The communion of saints, of course, is a Catholic tradition that sets us apart from our Protestant friends – and the extraordinary idea of saints beside me as I pray is both comforting and inspiring.
“One beautiful thing about the saints is that there’s such a wide variety of shapes and sizes, virtues and vices, and different inclinations that point to the reality that God takes us where we are and that when we offer ourselves to God he makes something beautiful of us,” says Katie Dawson, the Diocese of Orange’s director of parish evangelism and faith formation.
Lessons from the saints can inspire us and teach us, bringing us closer to God through their examples. “A heart truly open to God that pays attention to the movement of God in that heart will see unexpected and beautiful miracles,” says Dawson, describing what she has learned from studying the saints.
“I love reading the stories of saints who did surprising things, who exhibited incredible confidence in God that is the fruit of deep communion with Jesus,” adds Dawson.
The author and founder of Dynamic Catholic, Kelly says the saints inspire us to bold action and remind us repeatedly that we can change the world.
“We can read stories of the saints with an eye toward finding a sympathetic companion,” Dawson says.
Maria Morera Johnson, cohost of the podcast “Catholic Weekend,” wrote an irreverently titled book, “My Awesome, Beautiful, Badass Book of Saints,” full of stories of courageous women saints marked by deep faith and strong character. Before writing the book, Johnson admits, “I saw saints as one-dimensional holy cards. I never saw them as regular people who lived regular lives.” But in the year she researched their lives, she discovered that the more she read about the saints, the more she wanted to read about them.
“I felt a real human connection with so many of them,” she says.
In an article for Integrated Catholic Life, author Dr. Peter Keeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, described “Seven Ways Devotion to Saints Makes a Difference for Catholics.”
Saints show us that death does not divide us, Dr. Kreeft writes. The saints also teach us that the Church isn’t just what we can see, but Heaven, Earth, and Purgatory.
“To include the saints in our present Church community is to have a mystical view of community, not just a political, psychological and sociological view,” he writes – and they provide examples of heroism and hope.
To begin learning about the saints, Dawson recommends books by Mary Reed Newland and Patricia Treece, available at Amazon.
“People often say the saints are impractical,” Dawson observes, “but the most practical people keep their eyes on the true horizon of life, which is the eternal.”