There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.
“We declare and define John XXIII and John Paul II be saints and we enroll them among the saints.” And so decreed Pope Francis today in Rome. It is official. Pope John and Pope John Paul are now saints. How blessed are we to witness such history.
What is it, you ask, about Catholics and their saints? Why do we “adore” them so much? Who are they anyway and why should you care?
As a cradle Catholic, I have long prayed to saints and have my favorites. St. Jude is my mom’s patron saint and one I have forever held special in my heart. I know the prayer to him by heart. I also love St. Francis, St. Therese, and St. Ann – the blessed mother of Mary. I pray to them often. I have statues and pictures of them throughout our home. But why? Why not just pray to God you ask?
Well, the saints are my friends. I count on them and ask them to pray for me and my loved ones much like you ask friends and family to pray for you and your loved ones. It’s really that simple. Yes, of course I also pray to the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but “when more than one gathers in my name,” the more the merrier, right?
Let me make this straight, Catholics do not worship saints in the same one we worship God. We merely respect and admire them and acknowledge that they lived lives right here on Earth just like we do but their lives were filled with great charity and heroic virtues. They are in heaven and have God’s ear so to speak.
As Pope Francis said today, “They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century but they were not overwhelmed by them.”
Here’s another analogy. You want to buy a new computer but you don’t go straight to Bill Gates, you go to a store and ask for the help of one of Microsoft’s agents, right? The saints, then, can be thought of as, on the simplest of simple terms, agents of God. Go to them, they will help you find answers!
“There is no heartache that heaven cannot heal.”
Pope John Paul II at Ground Zero
Today’s formal papal decree in Vatican City was historic on many levels. It was the first time in the Catholic church’s long and notable history that two ex-popes were canonized at the same time and never before had a reigning pope and a retired pope, Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI, celebrated Mass together in public, much less one during which two of their predecessors were formally declared saints in heaven.
It’s no surprise then that an estimated 800,000 pilgrims descended on Rome for today’s dual canonizations and another 300,000 watched the event on giant TV screens set up throughout Rome. Also witnessing this historical event first-hand were some 24 heads of state; dozens of royalty; and hundreds of cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, and deacons.
Much like Princess Di’s wedding and funeral (I know, a bad comparison but if you know me, you get it), I recorded the event and have been watching it in all its glory today. Such pageantry, so much history.
It’s hard to argue that John Paul was and is a true saint. I remember when he was as near as San Antonio years ago. He loved to travel and meet the people, visiting more than 100 countries and becoming one of the world’s most-traveled leaders. “The People’s Pope,” John Paul was born in Poland and was the first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries. He was extremely popular and is widely regarded as being a major force in the collapse of communism and the fall of the Soviet Union. He was so powerful yet so humble. There are thousands of photos of him that I could have chosen to include in this blog, but the one I did has always been my favorite. Much like him, it shows his strength and his humility.
John XXIII, on the other hand, is perhaps more obscure, even to me, but no less worthy of sainthood. He is held in high esteem for calling the 1962 Second Vatican Council, most commonly referred to as Vatican II. The somewhat controversial process basically modernized the church and led to numerous reforms; including the replacement of Latin at all masses and having priests face worshipers during mass. I remember when a priest’s back faced us during an entire mass and I remember when it all changed. It was indeed a big day. Sadly, John XXXII didn’t live to see the achievements of Vatican II.
Kristen and I will visit Rome this summer and will witness a papal audience in that very St. Peter’s Square. It gives me chills just thinking about it. I plan to look up and ask God and all His saints for their intercession and hope to walk away doing as St. Francis once said, “Preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words.”