Before Fr. Troy Schneider formally excuses children from church, the parochial vicar at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, often invites “all the little saintlings” to come forward.
“It is that idea of letting them know that they are called to be saints too, and so are all of us,” Schneider says. “We are all saints in the making, so to speak. We are called to be holy.”
A lot of people refer to saints as Catholic heroes, people who are able to do great things out of the love of God. Some were martyrs who died for their faith, including St. Peter and St. Andrew, who were crucified, or St. Stephen, who was stoned to death. St. Agnes was beheaded for wanting to commit herself to God rather than marrying a suitor.
Hearing these stories, some may think that saints and sainthood are ideals that are out of their reach, but the presence of saints shows that the extraordinary spiritual feats of ordinary people are attainable.
“It is possible,” Fr. Schneider says. “We can all do this. It’s not just for certain people. Each and every one of us is called to this.”
It is perhaps why so many Catholics have a kinship with saints and often seek their intercession.
“They started out just like us,” Schneider says. “We have seen them come from the muck and the mire, so to speak, and rise above that through the cooperation of God’s grace, that in the midst of some situations and awful circumstances, they rose above that and still saw the joy in the gospel. They were ultimately called, knowing that their goal was eternal life with God.”
The concept of saints is rooted in scripture, says Schneider, who studied early church history at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that they are called to be saints: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” (1 Corinthians, 1:2)
Historically, honoring saints dates back to as early as 100 A.D., when believers began remembering other Christians who died and were asking for their aid, according to Catholic.org.
Today, there are more than 10,000 saints recognized by the church. The Catholic Church follows a very formal process for determining sainthood in which the holiness of a candidate, only considered many years after his or her death, is discussed and debated by theologians before the designation is formally bestowed by the pope.
“Why we revere the saints in our church comes from the fact that they are people who have opened themselves up so completely and totally to the workings of the Holy Spirit,” Schneider says. “They have become holy. They have become who God created them to be.”
The role that saints serve in the church is complementary to our relationship with the Holy Trinity, he says.
“The living active exemplification of God’s love is the Holy Spirit,” Schneider says. “When a saint is there, ultimately we revere them as someone who has fulfilled their baptismal call in the way they had expressed their love of God. They made it tangible for us as human beings to witness the love of God, to have some glimpse of what God’s love is in the world.”
While Catholics revere saints, they do not worship them.
“We don’t pray to saints,” Schneider says. “We pray with saints and we ask for their prayers, just like we would when we are having a difficult time and we ask family members and others to pray for us. We are not alone. We are part of a whole community of faith. Just because saints have passed on, they have not left us. We are still united, maybe not physically, but spiritually.”
Asking for their prayers not only shows us how we cooperate together as a community of faith but it unites us with God, Schneider says.
“In a way, when we pray together for each other we are mimicking the relationship of the three persons in the Blessed Trinity and we are united in love as one God,” he says. “They don’t point to themselves; they point to Christ. They live their lives not so that they can be worshiped, but so that they can say, ‘See, when you let God work through you, amazing things can happen.’ And that is the life of the saints. It is that humility that it is not them. It is God.”
To become holy means becoming who God created you to be fully, reaching the end goal to be a saint, Schneider says.
“Each one of us is called to live a sacramental life,” he says. “That means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, cooperating with the Holy Spirit, uniting the will of God, to be a living symbol of God’s love in the world.”