It’s amazing how long it took me to really appreciate the gift of the Communion of Saints. For too many years I put and kept the saints somewhere off in the distance on say, a spiritual shelf of sorts. They were also, quite literally on a shelf growing up in a traditional Catholic and Italian American home. There were the ever present statues of the Queen of all saints, the Blessed Mother, along with St. Anthony and of course, the ever popular St. Francis of Assisi.
As a product of Catholic school I was familiar with the prayers associated with these dynamic Christian heroes, but beyond a general knowledge they didn’t have that much significance in my life. Even after I came back to the Church, following more than two decades of a Christmas and Easter approach to Catholicism, I still kept them at a distance. When I stop and think about it, that was a really dumb move on my part, considering when I had my reversion I began reading Scripture and Church documents with a constant hunger for more. Why in the world I didn’t bother seeing what thousands of great men and women who had gone before me, struggling with many of the same issues we all have, had to say about Jesus and Church teaching? Why did I fail to see what they contributed in terms of devotion, practice, and understanding of what it means to live out our relationship with God?
It wasn’t until I started taking pilgrimages to Rome, the Holy Land, and other sights associated with Catholicism, that I took the saints down from the shelf, dusted them off, and really began to embrace them as friends and companions on my faith journey. It’s hard not to fall in love with the saints when in Rome or Jerusalem. Every piazza, every street corner has yet one more beautiful church filled with art work and relics that tell their powerful stories.
I’m thinking about this especially as we mark the feast day, April 29th, of St. Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the Church. St. Catherine and St. Teresa of Avila, also one of the female Church doctors, are my two all-time favorite saints. On one of my return trips to Rome I just happened to be in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva tucked behind the Pantheon. I knew her tomb was located there so I purposely went there to have a few moments with Catherine. What I didn’t know was that on her feast day pilgrims who visit the church are actually given the precious gift of being able step inside the glass enclosed tomb for a brief prayer. I learned this that very day as I saw many people doing just that, and so, of course not wanting to miss such an extraordinary spiritual opportunity, I followed along and did the same thing as the other pilgrims.
This was just one very intense moment I’ve had with the Communion of Saints; moments or better yet experiences that I try to capture in my latest book, Girlfriends and Other Saints: Companions on My Journey of Faith from Word Among Us Press. In this book you’ll meet Catherine, Teresa, Teresa Benedicta, St. Gabriel, Pope St. John Paul the Second as well as some special friends who are still here with me on earth. I wish I could say the book was my idea, but credit must be given to my wonderful editor, Patricia Mitchell, who approached me about writing a book on the saints. I am so glad she did. The saints really are our friends. They are interceding constantly for us around the throne of God in heaven. And are just waiting for an invitation from you and me to get to know them better. They’re a lot closer than we think and can be a part of our lived reality of faith, just like our other friends and companions. After all, if we ask our good friends here on planet earth to pray for us, why not ask our friends in heaven to do the same? Trust me. You’ll be very pleasantly surprised by their responses.
Painting: St Catherine of Siena by Baldassare Franceschini, Google Art Project