I urge you, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf
Have you ever heard the rhyme “Tony, Tony, turn around, something’s lost and must be found”? This is a simple little prayer to St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of lost items, asking for his intercession on our behalf to help us find what we have lost.
As Catholics, we ask the saints for intercession on a regular basis. We pray Marian devotions asking Our Lady to bring our concerns to God and bury statues of St. Joseph, patron saint of home and family, to ask his intercession in the sale of our houses. We identify dates in our calendar to celebrate the feasts of these holy people. However, many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic, misunderstand, or don’t know, why the Catholic tradition includes such requests and celebrations of the saints.
First off, what is a saint? A saint is one of God’s people. Yes, that includes you and me and all of our friends here on Earth right now. It also includes all of those who went before us in faith. We are those currently inhabiting or working our way toward Heaven with our Father.
Now, some might stop me here and ask a very good question: “Don’t saints have to be canonized by the pope?” The Roman Catholic Church recognizes a Communion of Saints. These are people, declared by the pope, who we are sure are in heaven. I may know that I believe in God and that I am going to Heaven, but you can’t be sure of it until I prove I’m already there. People who have proven that they are in heaven are those named to the Communion of Saints.
Now the question is, how does someone prove they’re in Heaven? They bring intercessions to God and help us here on Earth. This is shown on our end through miracles. Let’s use an example.
Let’s say you have a close friend of the family, Ellen, who is a nurse. She has chosen to spend her life working for non-profit groups helping with healthcare in third world countries. As an older woman, she develops cancer and eventually passes away, peaceful in her knowledge that she has led a good life doing God’s work.
A few years after her passing, your child is diagnosed with inoperable cancer. You don’t know where to turn. You wish she was still alive, with her peaceful countenance and healthcare knowledge, to listen to your worries and calm you, and to hold your hand while you pray. You begin speaking with her, in heaven. “Ellen, I don’t know what to do! He is far too young for cancer. I wish you were here to pray with me. If you can hear me up there, please pray to God for me, and for him.”
Ellen is in heaven, looking down, and listening to your prayer. She does exactly as you ask, she gets down on her angelic knees in front of God and asks for Him to grant your request and heal your son. He listens to your prayer and hers and your son’s cancer goes into complete remission.
This miracle would be attributed to Ellen as a strong sign that she is, indeed, in heaven with God. After two such miracles, the pope would canonize her and your friend would be recognized as the saint she was both when she was alive, and after her death.
Now a lot of people at this point bring up the first commandment:
I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.
~Exodus 20: 2-6
Isn’t praying to the saints, one might ask, just like praying to an idol or another false god?
For this one, I answer a question with a question. When you are in troubled times and need help, do you turn to your friends and ask them to pray for you? The Saints are our extended group of friends. The same way we can ask our friends to pray for us, we can reach out to our friends in Heaven and request their prayers as well. This includes those who have not been canonized by the pope. If you know they’re there, ask for their intercession.
The Saints serve many purposes. They intercede on our behalf with God, but they are also examples to us of Godly lives. We acknowledge and celebrate the lives the Saints lived with feast days. Each Saint’s feast day reminds us of the details of their life, and gives us a chance to contemplate the path they took to Heaven.
People also talk a lot about patron saints. Many Saints have a patronage for some specific trouble that we encounter on Earth. Like St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost items. St. Joseph is the patron saint of home and family. And St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. However, these are just indications of the kinds of lives these Saints lived and the kinds of intercessions these Saints are known to have made.
People also have patron saints. Many Catholic parents choose a patron for their child when they name them. My parents gave me the middle name Rose, after St. Rose of Lima. Rose was a very pious child, focusing on God at an early age. I have never specifically asked my parents why they chose her as my patron, but I imagine it was in hopes that I, too, would find devotion in my youth. Also, she is a patron saint of, among other things, embroiderers and needleworkers, and I have always found a lot of joy in these pastimes. Rose guided my youth, an icon on my bedroom wall, watching over me.
As a Catholic, I selected my personal patron saint at my confirmation. St. Clare of Assisi’s devotion both to the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and putting God before all, as well as her leadership of the Order of Poor Ladies (later known as the Order of Saint Clare) drew me to her. Clare, it so happens, is also a patron saint of embroidery and needlework. Taking Clare as my personal patron saint has continued to draw me closer to her, like a best friend, mentor, and confidant, leading me in faith.
The Saints are an amazing group of people who have shown great devotion to God. They are also our extended friends and family. We celebrate their lives, ask for their intercession, and try to emulate their holy existences.
So, the next time you lose something, reach out to a friend for help: Tony, Tony, turn around, there’s something lost that must be found!
In case you feel inspired by any of the saints mentioned in this post, here are their feast dates: