Seeing a photograph of Saint Therese of Lisieux resting in a chair near the end of her life, some American parochial students surprised their teacher with the question: “You mean she was real?” The reality of the saints is the place for us to start; these men and women and their stories and words are not legends, or some kind of religious equivalent of super heroes, or even two-dimensional historical figures, however inspiring. They really lived, and still live in the heavenly world.<
When we’re anxious about the pandemic and the shutdowns, we should remember Saint Catherine of Siena, who ministered lovingly to the sick when her townspeople were dying in the streets from the Black Plague. When we’re dismayed by the limitations placed on Christian worship and the aspersions cast on Christian faith that we see today, we should remember Saint Lawrence the Martyr who, while being roasted to death on a grill, told his pagan torturers, “I’m well done on this side. Turn me over!” When we’re troubled by harmful thoughts, we should remember Saint Mary of Egypt, who struggled heroically and alone in the Palestinian desert for decades, fighting the urge to return to the decadent life from which she had been called. The saints know what we are going through and will respond to our calls for their help.<
Many of us have experienced for ourselves what millions of Christians have found during the long history of the church - that the saints are ready to respond to our prayers, to bless, protect, heal, and sanctify us. And during their own earthly sojourn the saints themselves discovered this for themselves. See how Saint John Vianney continually turned toward the martyr Saint Philomena for her miraculous intercession; how Saint Andre of Montreal found Saint Joseph to be a healer and helper in all troubles and counseled all he met to "Go to Saint Joseph"; how the little-known contemporary Egyptian saint Pope Kyrillos VI made the third-century martyr Saint Mina his miraculous helpmate in his difficult task of leading the Coptic Christians.
We may not face an emperor demanding we sacrifice to pagan gods, or a king requiring us to condone his adultery, but the supernatural courage and heroic examples of a Saint George or a Saint Thomas More are an inspiration for all times. And how pertinent they are to our own struggles, as the Christians of today face a new degree and manner of persecution.
“For a Christian, there is no teaching that is more efficacious than reading of the life of a saint, especially of one who has lived in his own time”
- renowned contemporary iconographer Photios Kontoglou
In an age when millions find celebrity more attractive than sanctity, and virtue-signaling takes the place of real virtue, we need to move our focus from the ways of the world and turn to the saints for a guiding light. And why not use the very tools of this age to do this? You can find excellent videos of the lives of the saints on YouTube, and Amazon is a great source for biographies of the saints and books of their writings, many of which are out of print and only available from the many independent bookstores that list their inventory there.
If we make the remembrance of the saints our constant companion and study, we will find their example becoming the measure for our own behavior. You become what you contemplate, as one of our subscribers wrote to us about his own veneration of the saints and their icons.
"Blessed is he who plants in his soul good plants - that is, the virtues and the lives of the saints," writes Saint Ephraim the Syrian.
Christian tradition clearly shows us the way to open a window into heaven. If we place the icons and images of the saints in our home and church, honor and pray to them (especially on their feast days), and remember to always turn to them for guidance and help in every need, however great or small, we can experience for ourselves their blessed protection, healing, and intercession.