By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published March 31, 2011
Each year the rather restrained season of Lent is interrupted by two extremely festive events—the feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph—coming annually in rapid succession. On these two days, we tend to set aside our penitential feelings to praise God for sending these two wonderful men into the heart of the Church. Saints are very important to Catholics, and Patrick and Joseph are among the most popular of them all.
Saints give all of us reasons to believe that holiness is attainable and tangible in the lives of those that we honor. In the early Church saints were primarily martyrs—men and women who had the courage to die for the faith that they professed. The Church held up lots of different types of martyrs, including young women who with extraordinary courage dared to confront the civil authorities of their day and who willingly faced death rather than to deny the Lord Jesus. The ancient martyrs also included many soldiers who defected from the military service of the emperors to become members in the army of the Lord.
Throughout the ages, saints have represented many different categories of people—monks and hermits, widows and religious, kings and paupers—all of whom lived lives of holiness in the midst of their worlds and usually at a high personal price. We Catholics love saints because they help us to see the hand of God working in the lives of these wondrous people in each age and in every culture and nation of the globe. We Catholics are sacramental people, and we believe that God’s grace is mediated in tangible ways and always close to us in a particular way in the example of the saints.
Early on as a bishop I began the tradition of focusing upon the saints that our candidates for Confirmation choose as their patron. I did so because young people especially are motivated by heroes and heroines. Our youngsters always need good examples to inspire them. Our society holds up a host of such figures for our youngsters, and all too often these individuals manage to disappoint us because of their human weaknesses and failings.
In today’s environment, many of the public figures almost seem to delight in providing negative standards and outrageous behavior. Our youth need to know that there are public celebrities who have managed to live lives of integrity and holiness. These are the saints of the Church. And they are like us in so many different ways. Saints can be funny and humorous like Philip Neri or Genesius. Saints can be young and courageous like Maria Goretti or Dominic Savio. Saints can be husbands and wives like Isidore the Farmer and his wife, Maria de la Cabeza, or Ann and Joachim, the parents of Mary. Saints can be quite contemporary in their lifestyle like Gianna Beretta Molla or Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who both skied, drove cars and enjoyed laughter and all of the adventures that young people of their world valued—yet in the midst of their youthful enthusiasm they also centered their lives on a love for God that was transforming and inspiring.
We each have our own favorite saints, and I hope that we know that these holy men and women always love us and pray for us. I am certain that each one of you has your own favorite saint and may wonder why this brief column did not hold them up for admiration. We all feel great affection and respect for our own favorite saint. I have taken the bold initiative of making one of my own favorite saints—and my Confirmation patron—the namesake of our new Chancery Chapel. In a few weeks, we will bless and dedicate this special new place of prayer at our Smyrna offices. St. Dominic’s Chapel will be the heart of that new facility, and I pray that he will bless all of our efforts to serve this wonderful Catholic community.
St. Dominic, pray for us!