Hebrews 12: 1: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Listen to this contemporary take on the traditional Litany of the Saints by Matt Maher, along with some beautiful icons:
Marcus, sitting in church with his mother, asked her one day who all the people in the stained glass windows were. "Marcus, they're the saints," the mother replied. The little boy thought for a moment. "Oh, I get it," he replied. "The saints are the ones who let the light shine through."
On Monday, July 13th, Catholics celebrate the feast of St. Henry of the Holy Roman Empire, who, in the 11th century, along with his wife, St. Cunegunda (I love saying that name), in spite of their substantial wealth and power, dedicated their lives and resources to caring for the poor. On Tuesday, July 14th, we celebrate the feast of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, "the Lily of the Mohawks," who lived in 17th-century Caughnawaga, Quebec, whose life was marked by simplicity and love, and who is celebrated as the first Native American to be declared "blessed" by the church.
On Wednesday, July 15th, we celebrate the feast of St. Bonaventure, a bishop and doctor of the Church in the 13th century, who was a great writer and teacher. On Saturday, July 18th, we celebrate the feast of St. Camillus de Lellis, an Italian priest of the 17th century, who spent his life establishing hospitals and caring for the sick. All that in one week of the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar!
That's one of the things I love about the Catholic Church: its long and consistent tradition of belief in the saints. We have saints of all shapes and sizes, from the time of Peter the apostle and first pope, to the most contemporary saint, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who died in 1997. We have popes, bishops, and priests who are saints, for sure, and, some would argue, maybe a disproportionate number of them...but we also have monks, and brothers, sisters, lay people, children, and husbands and wives, too. We have saints from all over the globe, though again, some would argue, with perhaps a disproportionate number coming from Italy (kinda close to where the pope makes them, don't you think?).
I remember at St. Louis School in Lowell, MA, learning how to read with the Sisters of the Assumption by using the lives of the saints, published by the Daughters of Saint Paul Press. I remember learning about Maximilian Kolbe who gave up his life for another and died in front of a firing squad in Auschwitz. I devoured the life story of Blessed Miguel Pro of Mexico, the young priest who chanted "Viva Christo Rey" as he died a martyr for his faith, and dreamed as a young boy of having the courage to do the same thing. I loved learning about the simple beggar, Francis of Assisi, and his sister in faith, Clare, and years later, I laughed out loud thinking about St. Simeon Stylites, who spent thirty years sitting naked on a flagpole, covered in sackcloth and ashes. In the winter, didn't he freeze his ashes off?
Not only is there a saint for every kind of person and temperament, but there is also a saint for every cause. People who like to fish can look to St. Peter. St. Matthew is the patron saint of bankers. People who are battling cancer should pray to St. Peregrine, while St. Joseph of Cupertino is a favorite with pilots and astronauts. Cooks celebrate St. Pascual Bailon, while teachers look to St. John Cantius...
This great cloud of witnesses who surround us provide models of every day life lived exceptionally well: our saints are real people, who lived in a particular time and place in history, but who, within the limits of their lives, overcame obstacles and achieved real holiness by God's grace, and have become examples for us about how we need to live our lives today. The world still needs saints...the world needs us to let God's light shine through...