Saints in our history and in our midst
By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published November 1, 2018 | En Español
After 35 years as a bishop, it is rare for me to hear something that I have not heard before when celebrating the sacrament of confirmation with our youth. I encountered something new when I confirmed a young man a couple of weeks ago at St. Gerard Majella Church in Fort Oglethorpe. He had chosen one of the 19th century Martyrs of Vietnam as his saint and then he informed me that he was a descendant of his patronal saint. He obviously had come to this awareness through his family. The 117 Martyrs of Vietnam include religious, clergy and laity from Vietnam and Europe. This young man is a descendant of one of the Vietnamese lay martyrs. He has the precious blood of saints in his personal background.
Some of the saints whom the Church honors have descendants who now live in our contemporary world. St. Catherine of Siena has distant living relatives who bear the name Benincasa—her family name. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton has a number of relatives here in the United States that belong to her family. Blessed Stanley Rother will offer many young people in the Oklahoma region a chance to identify personally with a real-life saint. Blessed Solanus Casey will offer another list of relatives who can link themselves to holiness. We are called to emulate the saints, and everyone who may have a saint in their family heritage clearly has an extraordinary incentive to follow the example of holiness of their own family member.
This week as we observe Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, we enter that time of year when we turn our attention to the saints—universal and personal—and we can take comfort in knowing that the saints are all on our side, urging us to follow their lead into God’s Kingdom. Our contemporary world too often portrays the faithful departed as ghouls, zombies and ghosts. They are portrayed as spirits who seek to harm us or at least to frighten us. Our Catholic faith suggests that the faithful departed are anxious to help us, to urge us on toward holiness and the Kingdom of God. Even those souls still awaiting the fulfillment of their purification in purgatory are there hoping that we will do penance and offer prayers on their behalf to assist them. They, in turn, want nothing more than our salvation.
Every culture has its traditions regarding the faithful departed and some are more influenced by demonic images than by our faith. The satanic and fallen souls must not be the only or primary focus of this season. Costumes and masks are fun for kids (and even a few adults) at this time of year, but just as important, if not more important, are the lessons of faith that belie these practices.
The kids at our Cathedral school and many other Catholic schools and religious education programs will dress up as saints this week. They will help to restore the faith heritage of this week when they remind family and friends that the saints are in our history and in our midst to inspire us toward holiness and life with God.
The young Vietnamese lad whom I confirmed at St. Gerard a few weeks ago proudly proclaimed that he is a descendent of a saint. Hopefully, he will continue to look into his personal family heritage and decide that sanctity is a worthwhile pursuit for him and all of his relatives and friends as well.