Last Sunday, the faithful celebrated the canonization of 7 Saints, among them the second Filipino to be so honored: the teen martyr St. Pedro Calungsod. What a joyous occasion this is, on earth as well as in heaven, when we honor those who were able to love, who were able to live out the Gospel the way we aspire to! The Church puts them in a place where they can continue to inspire generations of believers well beyond the exemplary lives they lived.
In the days leading up to the canonization, I shared the story of St. Pedro with my 5-year-old son. He listened avidly as I told him of this boy who loved Jesus very much that he was willing to die for Him. Admittedly, the concept of martyrdom may be too much for a kindergartener, but I believe it is enough that he remembers the name, and that there is a story behind that name. During mass that Sunday, when Pedro Calungsod’s name was mentioned during the Prayers of the Faithful, my little boy exclaimed, “He’s the one in your story, Mama!” I trust that when my son grows to be around St. Pedro’s age, he will remember this story and be inspired by it.
A lot of friends who have heard of my relationship with St. Thérèse very innocently ask, how do you choose/find a patron saint? Not always an easy question to answer, as I feel this spiritual friendship with Thérèse is more her doing than it is mine. (Read about our story in Friends in High Places, and don’t forget about the Epilogue). And so I have replied as many times I’ve been asked this question: we don’t choose the saints, they choose us.
Think about it–there are thousands of Saints that have been named by the Church throughout history (probably thousands more not formally recognized). Because of this vast number, there is probably a patron saint for everything and anything you can think of (I was going to make a short list, but you’ll have to see for yourself to believe it here). Sure, you can read up on the more popular saints, and choose one to your liking, but I’ve heard enough stories of friends who thought they had found their saint, only to realize in hindsight how the Saint has been making his/her presence felt without their knowing it.
Stories like Karla, called repeatedly to simplify her lifestyle, deciding to pray to St. Francis (who really should be the poster boy for renouncing wealth and embracing poverty for the sake of the Gospel) for inspiration and strength, then later realizing how St. Francis had been teaching her the simple life even long before she first heard the call–previously reading his biography out of convenience for a reading assignment, even moving to a house on a street named (what else?) San Francisco.
Or Howard, a Philosophy graduate and later professor, struggling to move from understanding to loving with regards to his relationship with Jesus, trying to remove his bias against reading the works of St. Augustine (I really don’t like his style of writing!), at the same time wondering why, for some reason, he felt compelled to purchase 3 different translations of Augustine’s Confessions at different times in his life, but still not reading it. And now, finally on the same page as this Doctor of the Church, he has found someone who asked the very same questions he has, and with saintly help, finding the answers, and the way to fall in love with Christ.
And Ciel, called to total surrender, remembering the mantra delegates shouted during Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Philippines during the World Youth Day in 1995, Totus tuus! (Totally Yours!), and suddenly finding JPII everywhere–the small parish she frequents being renamed after him, serendipitously chancing upon his relics on display, even being given a prayer card containing a third class relic!
In all these, it is about Church Militant finding support from Church Triumphant. It is about the Saints, who have gone before, showing us that it is possible to love the way Christ calls us to, to sacrifice, to serve. It is about the Saints understanding the struggles we go through, the questions we ask, the attachments we strive to surrender, and telling us that if they were able to do it, by God’s grace, so can we. It is about these holy men and women knowing us, believing in us, praying for us, and basically cheering us on.
Is it really necessary to pray to the Saints, a Saint, to get to Heaven? Most probably not. But it certainly makes for a more awesome adventure.