Catholics Pray to Saints, and Scoff at Them: Why are We Double-Hearted?
We’ve celebrated the feast days of two of the Church’s most remarkable saints this past week. Of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary—the most remarkable saint of all, the saint of saints, the original—in her glorious Assumption was commemorated on Wednesday 15 August. This is one of the few “holy days of obligation” that fall outside of regular Sundays throughout the Church year. I hope that you all attended Mass that day. In the Catholic cantons of Switzerland the Marian Solemnities (as all non-Sunday days of obligation) are public holidays as well. On the Solemnity of the Assumption we are reminded by the Church of the great destiny of every Christian that is foreshadowed in the destiny of the BVM: to be made pure, holy, saintly, in order that we may one day see God face-to-face.
But also a very modern saint with a special resonance in our community, Maximilian Kolbe (think Kolbe Hall), was celebrated on the day before, 14 August—the very day of his martyrdom. Father Kolbe was murdered in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz after offering his life as a substitute for that of a younger man who was married with children. Think of Kolbe’s martyrdom as the great concert of his life for which he had prepared for many years by smaller renunciations of himself and this world, laying up treasure for himself in the next.
As with every saint, the goods of this world belong more to them than they do to us, precisely because the saints renounce these worldly goods! How is this possible? Rather, it is a spiritual law, because God has made the world and every good of the world for us to enjoy in communion with him. These goods are ultimately spoiled for us if we refuse to receive them as gifts from God and rather grasp at them as if they belong to us by right, as if we will never die, as if there is no other world than this one for which we are made. In imitation of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints reverse this self-destructive, grasping instinct of fallen humanity, and by their intercession we can have the world and all its goods given back to us—if we first renounce the grasping for those goods. That’s the rule. In Advent and Lent we give special attention to this penitential aspect of Christian living, but in reality it is the everyday way of the Christian.
And so, when we’re tempted to say “hey there, you know, I’m a Catholic but I’m no saint now”, let’s make sure we say it in all humility and not as a kind of bragging, as if with a wink and a nudge and a smug chuckle we brush off the awesome reality of our destiny, the equivalent of saying “I go to Mass but I don’t take too seriously the call to live a holy life.” To speak and think like this is to scoff at the saints. It is a contradiction of reality and in the end really quite silly: for we imagine that we are happier when we make a deal with the world: “give me Sunday Mass and I’ll give you the rest of my life.” But as St. Augustine said, having learned this truth through much heartbreak and bitter disillusion, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.”
By the intercession of the BVM and St. Maximilian Kolbe, may we learn to choose Heaven, for only then will this world truly belong to us.
- Fr. Hagan