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|Echoing the Word: Understanding|
By Mark Ciesielski
As the Church celebrates the lives of the saints on Nov. 1 (Feast of All Saints) and on Nov. 2 (Feast of All Souls), we are faced with the question: What does it mean to be part of the communion of saints?
CNS PHOTO, Painting titled, “All Saints,” created by early Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico.
Every week at Sunday Liturgy the assembly professes the part of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” The Apostles’ Creed adds “the communion of saints.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church asks, “what is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?” (Nicetas, Expl. symb. 10: PL 52:871B; CCC: 946). The Church reminds us that this involves the community’s belief that “of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers.” (Paul VI, CPG § 30; CCC: 962)
Does the thought of being a saint sometime seem beyond what we think it means to be holy? Whether we have a special connection with a particular saint such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Charles Lwanga, St. Andrew Kim, St. Juan Diego, Mary the Mother of God, St. Joseph or other contemporary figures such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta or Pope John Paul II, they all share something in common. They experienced the saving love of Jesus Christ in such a way that nothing in this world was more important to them. To study the lives of the saints is to know that they were imperfect human beings who allowed the love of Christ to transform their minds and hearts. They had good days and bad days like all of us. In his book, “My Life with the Saints”, James Martin, S.J. states that “the saints understood more than anyone ... Jesus is everything.”
We, as a Catholic community, understand that the saints are both our companions for our journey of faith in Christ and our special intercessors to help us navigate life’s difficult paths. As a single parent of a twelve-year-old daughter, I, like many people, have a life filled with many personal demands. Every morning before I start the day, for one minute, I stand before two pictures of Mary and Joseph. With head bowed, I thank them for their faithful witness as disciples of Jesus. I ask for their blessing to have the mind and heart of Christ for my daughter and for others. I silence my heart and let surface the grace that I need for the day; sometimes it’s understanding or patience or wisdom or courage. I imagine their arms around me and interceding before Jesus for that blessing. I ask them to guard and protect those I love and invite them to walk with me throughout the day, to help me to remain alert to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to receive and to share generously God’s love. There are also earthly saintly companions I call upon each day to help me to stay centered in Christ. Some offer encouragement, some understanding, some wisdom, some knowledge and some courage — the gifts of the Holy Spirit working in and through them to build up the body of Christ. Each night, I return for a minute to these companions to express my gratitude, to ask Jesus for forgiveness for my failings, and to renew my mind and heart to be more faithful to Christ for the next day.
May our own saintly journeys grow through these closing words, “for if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity — all of us who are children of God and form one family in Christ — we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church.” (Lumen Gentium, 51; cf. Heb 3.6; CCC: 959) †
Mark Ciesielski is Associate Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Continuing Christian Education.
Painting titled, “All Saints,” created by early Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico.