On My Team
Who Do You Want On Your Team? by Ellen Wright
This past September, I had the privilege of attending the canonization Mass of St. Junipero Serra in Washington, DC. The excitement and anticipation was palpable amongst the members of the crowd on the lawn of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It was a beautiful early fall morning, and the crowds began to line up at the multiple entrances hours before the Mass began. Once inside, there were numerous stalls set up in the parking lot, where pilgrims could purchase beverages, snacks, and souvenirs, including miniature versions of the Popemobile, complete with miniature Pope Francis. The event was an odd mixture of the commercial and the holy. In part, it resembled a rock concert or sporting event—but then the Mass started. Despite chattering crowds, selfie sticks, and fangirl screams at the sight of Pope Francis, it was a powerful experience on mutiple levels. Many were moved to tears.
The event drew Catholics and non-Catholics alike, clamoring to witness this historic event. Yet, the saints are one of the most misunderstood and controversial concepts in Catholicism. For me, and I would suspect for others as well, they are also one of the most underutilized resources.
Prayer in general has been one of my (many) struggles. I often allow the busy-ness of life to crowd out my prayer (this ongoing battle is a whole other post). Rarely do I pray to the saints, simply because I don’t think to do it. But after attending the canonization Mass, I wanted to make an effort to integrate this practice into my life. Hopefully writing this post will rekindle that desire—there are always new places to grow!
So what is it about these saints anyway? A belief based in Scripture, Catholics pray to the saints because they believe that the saints—being united with God—can pray for them to God. It’s much like asking a friend to pray for your intentions. That’s a pretty normal occurrence by most people’s standards. Except these friends are, well, a little more directly connected. And you’ve probably never met them in person.
I think the saints serve a second, related purpose as well. As I wrote this post, I reflected on some of the saints I admire the most, thinking about what qualities drew me to them out of the hundreds and hundreds of canonized saints. I realized all these saints had qualities that I wished to cultivate within myself. It is people like this who I want to have my back, to be on my “team.” I don’t know much about sports, but I do know that when you put together a team, you want a group of people whose strengths complement one another. Where one person has a weakness, another can fill in that gap. If you read stories about the saints, you notice many different kinds of strengths.
The saints are your teammates. They are your coaches and role models as well. I like to use prayer to the saints as a reminder of those qualities that I would like to develop and fill in. When I say a prayer to a saint, I bring to mind those characteristics. The saints don’t develop those qualities in you any more than a living mentor would. God does that. But they can show you how when you prayerfully reflect on their lives and your own. Asking them to pray for you, you are reminded to readjust accordingly.
So here are my favorite saints and why:
Bernadette has been my favorite saint from the time I was assigned her for a project in second grade. Bernadette was courageous in the face of ridicule and adversity. She stuck to her story when it would be easier to give in. I would like to own my truth and my faith like Bernadette.
St. Therese of Lisieux
St. Therese is known for her “Little Way.” She would in no way be considered “impressive” by our culture’s standards. She completed the simplest tasks with love. I too would like to nurture mindful and intentional love in all actions, even the smallest ones.
St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis abandoned his sumptuous lifestyle for poverty and a life of service. I don’t think God is calling me to live in the wilderness right now, but I, too, would hope to develop the willingness to let go of comfort and certainty in exchange for unconditionally serving God, wherever he sends me.
The Blessed Virgin Mary
Mary, of course, holds a special place amongst the saints. However, as it relates to this post, I admire Mary for her humility, gentleness, and “yes” attitude.
Blessed Mother Theresa
Not yet an official saint until this Fall, what many people don’t know about Mother Theresa is that after her first mystical experience, she went through a long period of feeling utterly disconnected from God. Despite this fact, she continued to do His work in the world, to pray to Him, and to love others radically. In the times that I feel disconnected from God, I hope that I can have Mother Theresa’s perseverance in the darkness.
That’s just my short list—so get out those old saint anthologies or open a new Google window and get researching!