By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
What is All Saints’ Day? How many Catholics remember that Nov. 1 is a holy day of obligation? Young people who belong to Generation Z (those born after 1993) might not even know that there is a day to recognize and honor the lives and works of saints, both known and unknown.
Some people claim that saints are irrelevant in today’s fast-paced, high-tech and secularized society. The influence of advertising has urged Generation Z to strive to follow their most-admired personalities on social media. They want to know all the nitty-gritty details about the personal lives of celebrities—the more personal the details, the better.
For Catholics of all generations, however, saints of yore and even contemporary saints can be admired personalities from whom we benefit by learning of their virtuous lives. Devotion to saints can grow from understanding the Apostles’ Creed, a component of the Catholic Mass. Let us not simply say, “I believe in the communion of saints” without a deeper knowledge of its meaning.
The term “saints” encompasses the church’s triumphant (all the souls in heaven), the church’s suffering (the souls in purgatory), and the church’s militant (those of us who are still on earth, aiming at sanctity). The unique and special communion depicts and upholds the sense of an all-embracing and belongingness in the community God.
We are all called to partake in the universal call for holiness, especially those who are here on earth. In a 2014 General Audience, Pope Francis said, “It is by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints…. Always and everywhere you can become a saint, that is, by being receptive to the grace that is working in us and leads us to holiness.”
Studies about Generation Z indicate that they seek something that enables them to feel like they are making a difference in the world. Responding to the call of holiness is indeed a way to make a difference. Why not take the path of saints?
Here are some ideas:
Let a saint be part of your life. Each life story of a saint gives us profound and inspiring thoughts on how to serve and follow God. There are many free apps, such as The Saint of the Day, that offer short and easy-to-read information about the life and work of a saint. Find out which aspects of the saint’s life you could relate to such as the things you have in common or how the saint developed his/her relationship with God.
Be unique. Nowadays, being unique is trendy. How about making your prayer life unique? Saint Teresa of Avila offers writings on how to develop and grow in our prayer life. Saint Ignatius of Loyola teaches us the way of discernment. Embrace global diversity by following Saint Francis Xavier who shows us how to deal with challenges in foreign missions. Feel lost and don’t know how to move forward from a dark past? Saint John of the Cross enlightens us on how to deal with dark and painful experiences. Saints are human beings, who like us, had joys, sorrows, weaknesses and problems during their times on earth. We can learn a lot from the saints.
Visit a parish. Every parish has a patron saint whose feast day is celebrated annually. Celebrating the feast of the patron saint of a parish helps not only to strengthen the identity of the parish, but it gives parishioners knowledge about the life and works of the saint, which can help them grow in their own Christian faith. If there is an opportunity, visit the sacred and religious sites that are significant in the lives of the saints, such as their birthplaces, churches where they were baptized, schools where they studied, communities where they worked, shrines, tombs, and other sites consecrated for worship or ritual.
Go on a pilgrimage. These are also awe-inspiring places connected to saints where they were born, baptized, educated, worked or buried. Other sacred places mark where miracles or visions were reported. Seeing these places in person help us deepen our belief that a life in holiness is possible. One example is the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Saint James the Great in Galicia, Spain. In Portugal, you can visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, where Pope Francis recently canonized Jacinta and Francisco, two of the three children who witnessed the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In North America, you can visit Saint Anne de Beaupré Basilica in Quebec, the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia, the National Shrine of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini in Chicago or the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos in New Orleans.
Pray through the intercession of saints. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church conveys, the saints in heaven are much closer to God than those of us still on earth. “The merciful love of God and his saints is always attentive to our prayers.” (No. 962) Therefore, we ask our family and friends in heaven to pray for us, to hand deliver our prayers to God.
Borrow from the saints. Sometime, we are overwhelmed by the trials we face in life. We seek words to articulate our thoughts and express our feelings. During those times, we can express our petition to God through the prayers of saints, such as “make me an instrument of your peace,” a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. When we are frightened and terrified by darkness in our society, let us pray with St. Arnold Janssen, the founder of the Society of the Divine Word and two communities of religious women: “May the darkness of sin and night of unbelief vanish before the light of the Word and the spirit of grace, and may the heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all. Amen.”
Sainthood comes to those who selflessly offered their lives to God. Members of Generation Z are characterized as self-starters and more accepting of others. To them, I say, why not include a saint in your life? Accept what a saint can offer you and be transformed. Regardless of generation, with the grace of God, let us all strive to live out our call to be saints here on earth.