One of the greatest spiritual tools afforded to us as Catholics in our journey towards God is the inspiration offered by the lives of saints. The saints are not just close to God in a special way, and people we can reach out to as a path of prayer. The endless array of saints and their stories reminds us of the diversity of ways people find God throughout history, the great continuum of vocations and missions God imparts to his children, and how all of us—in our own time, in our own way, in our own actions—can become saints.
Brendan: Catholic Conscience is devoted especially to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But we too can draw from the blessed example of many saints. So, when you think of our mission as an organization—and the mission facing all Catholics, of becoming well-formed Christian citizens—who are the saints who inspire you the most? Who are the saints whose lives have special relevance to our work?
Matthew: A great question, worthy of thought.
Along with faith in special works and graces empowered by God—typically called miracles—the Catholic concept of saints is something that sets us Catholics, and our Orthodox sisters and brothers, apart. To me, that’s sad. Too many people are missing out on a good thing. The cause, I think, is that too many people, Catholic and otherwise, confuse the concept of saints with devotion to plaster statues, images, and other objects. Such objects, which can best be thought of as tools for devotion, can be wonderful helps in focusing, contemplation, and the creation of beauty. Misused, they can lead us apart from the real idea of saints, and through our actions, maybe even help drive others further away from God.
Really, the concept of saints is pretty simple. Like many people, we Catholics believe that when an individual’s life ends, her or his spirit, or soul, continues along its journey, hopefully moving in a new way closer toward God. In the larger sense, all of these souls who continue their pilgrimage can be thought of as ‘saints’, the more so as they grow closer. Those whose cases have been carefully investigated and approved by the Church for general reverence are typically capitalized as “Saints”, with a capital “S”.
The key is our belief that although we can no longer see or touch those pilgrim souls, there’s nothing to say we can’t continue to speak with them, through prayer, and ask them to help us by joining in our prayers. Presumably the most holy and devoted of these saints, being ever closer to God and being more practiced at prayer, have a better chance of being heard than we who are still at some distance, in the “living” world we know.
There’s nothing scary or illogical about it at all.
This means we have lots of choices for people to turn to, both as individuals and as a society.
In addition to our Immaculate Mother, her husband is a great choice, particularly for Canadians: St Joseph is patron of our country. Being one of the world’s quiet, devoted workers, he seems an excellent choice for Canada, as someone who is likely to have found very great favor with God. I recommend him heartily.
There are many saints for special causes—they can be so effective, in fact, that they get relegated to somewhat narrow channels for petition, and sometimes become almost like family members.
In 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared St Thomas More to be the universal patron of statesmen and politicians. At his execution by Henry VIII, St Thomas declared himself “the king’s good servant, but God’s first. Truly “a witness to the truth that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality.” Obviously a great resource for Catholic Conscience and others interested in politics and proper social order.
It’s interesting to note St Thomas More was executed in 1535, just four years after Our Lady commissioned St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin for the building of a chapel near Mexico City. Our Lady of Guadalupe is patroness of all the Americas, which makes her another great choice for us, and is part of the reason Catholic Conscience is consecrated to her Immaculate Heart.
There are many, many choices beyond that: basically, any good person who has gone ahead in his/her pilgrimage is a candidate. I, for example, pray to Juan Diego for humility; to my Uncle George, who died before I was born, as my guardian angel; and to my father and brother to keep an eye on my children. And I pray to a (very good Catholic) baseball player named Charlie Gehringer for the help in obtaining the grace to shut up and work hard.
B: I did not know St. Joseph was patron of Canada! And patron of hard work, the ever-needed virtue in the task of building a better world. A very appropriate saint for any Catholic citizen to keep in mind.
I suppose I’ll add a couple more for consideration. In the work Catholic Conscience does in forming Christians in the wisdom of Catholic social teaching, I look to the example of Saint Francis de Sales. I knew of Saint Francis de Sales before joining Catholic Conscience. He is, after all, the patron saint of writers–a good saint for a writer to keep at heart! He is famous for a few things. As Bishop of Geneva, he was a gentle evangelizer during the Reformation. His pamphlets and other written materials helped persuade thousands to rejoin the Church. He was, in that way, the progenitor of a democratic citizen in fine form—someone who seeks to peacefully persuade, who is open to conversation, encounter, and conversion. Saint Francis de Sales comes to mind when I think of ideal citizens. I also appreciate deeply his practical approach to the task of living a Christian life. His Introduction to the Devout Life is a very pragmatic approach to deepening faith, a guide which embraces the philosophy that sustained, disciplined action over time can change hearts and souls. Such a perfect metaphor for the work of being a virtuous Christian citizen. I find all the great civic virtues are learned through good practice. And, of course, Catholic Conscience seeks to gently persuade others of the wisdom of Catholic social teaching—a work Saint Francis de Sales would appreciate, I’m sure.
I admire greatly Saint Ignatius of Loyola as an institution-builder, constructing the Jesuits from the ground up through work, commitment, and of course the grace of God. I think of him often as we build the works and mission of Catholic Conscience.
So much of being a good Christian citizen depends on fighting for the preferential option for the poor. Though not (yet, I hope) a saint, Dorothy Day’s work for the vulnerable and abandoned continues to inspire me. I likely wouldn’t be involved in the causes I am involved in, were it not for her example. Dorothy Day’s example of Christian citizenship reminds us brilliantly: to be a Christian in community is to prioritize the good of others over ourselves. We must constantly remember that Christ is closest to the least, and to be close to him, we must be close to them. We must find the hidden corners where injustice thrives, and bring in the light.
You also mentioned some personal examples. My grandmother Rose, who passed many years ago, exemplified a gentle wisdom and piety that burns a fire in my heart as if she were alive before my eyes today. When I need patience, when I want to do the just thing, when I feel penitent for sins, when I want to have an open heart instead of a closed one, her example continues to inspire.
M: Excellent examples. St Francis de Sales and saint Dorothy both have much to teach us, and I expect they are eager to help us move our prayers along.
The only further examples I can think to add are two named Francis—our current Pope, and the original, from Assisi. I think the world needs both very badly. Pope Francis, of course, is still with us – but that just means we should pray that God help him in guiding us, and gathering souls to Christ.
We talked earlier about the different “ages” of humanity. It’s interesting to me that St Francis of Assisi came to prominence at the end of the Church’s first millennium; and that it was only at the end of the 2nd millennium that the first Pope to adopt his name appeared. It’s a powerful name, and the world needs it sorely.
Let’s pray that these holy people will watch over us, and guide our efforts with Catholic Conscience.
Twice a month, Matthew Marquardt and Brendan Steven get together over breakfast and talk about what it means to be a Christian citizen. These are their Conscience Conversations. Want to join the conversation? Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching, and how you can serve your community as an active Christian citizen? Reach out to us: email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Marquardt is President of Catholic Conscience, a partner at a major Toronto law firm, and a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
Brendan Steven is a director with Catholic Conscience, a writer based in Toronto, and a parishioner at St. Basil’s Catholic Church.