As we prepare to celebrate Monday’s noteworthy feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – and remember Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, to whom she appeared – it’s a fitting time to renew our devotion to the saints and learn how they can help us engage more deeply with our faith.
Children study the saints in Catholic schools. They discover how the saints’ lives inspire us to worship God more faithfully and embrace important virtues. Catholic worship for adults, too, can become more meaningful by contemplation upon the saints’ lives and lessons.
“The designation of a saint is an encouragement to the living: If they could live a holy life, you can live a holy life; and, if they have gone to heaven, you can go to heaven,” writes Father Michael Van Sloun of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, in “Heavenly Role Models Inspire Our Faith Lives.”
Many who reflect on the lives of the saints often urge us to imitate the saints, Father Van Sloun notes, except some saints went overboard in fasting and other ascetical practices and were so severe that they jeopardized their health and well-being. “An old priest friend of mine was fond of saying, ‘The saints are to be admired, not imitated.’ It was his way of saying that the saints can inspire and motivate us, but we should be careful about how we imitate them, doing so in a balanced and reasonable way that helps us to make spiritual progress.”
Apostles, martyrs, pastors, preachers and teachers, virgins and religious, and holy men and women make up the Church’s liturgical calendar. During December, Catholics mark the feast days of such remarkable saints as:
St. Nicholas, December 6: Responsible for Christmas gift-giving traditions, Nicholas offered dowries for the families of needy brides and filled the empty shoes of children with small gifts, such as chocolate coins and tangerines.
St. Lucia, December 13: A Sicilian saint, Saint Lucia has been appropriated by Christians throughout Europe. On her feast day in Scandinavian countries, the eldest daughter rises early and serves cinnamon rolls to her family while wearing a characteristic circle of lit candles on her head.
St. John of the cross, December 14: A compassionate mystic who lived a life of poverty and persecution, St. John left many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer, including “Dark Night of the Soul,” and “A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ.”
St. Victoria, December 23: Very little is known about St. Victoria. Both she and her sister Anatolia were imprisoned and starved by their suitors, yet persisted in refusing marriage. Anatolia was denounced for her Christian faith and executed; Victoria refused to worship pagan gods and was also put to death. A guard converted by their example also was martyred.
“The great saints have in common a love of Jesus, and a pointing toward Him coming again,” says Katie Dawson, director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange. “When the baby Jesus is coming at Advent, there is so much potential to engage children with the stories of the saints.”
In addition to leading us to faith through example, the saints also can serve as our intercessors, reminds Father Van Sloun. “Everyone is free to pray directly to God,” he writes. “But if a saint is already in heaven at God’s throne while we are not, and if a saint enjoys God’s special favor while we are sinners, instead of approaching God directly, it may be beneficial to ask a saint to approach God on our behalf with our prayers and concerns.”