I was blessed with a vivid imagination as a child. It never took me very long to dive into my rich thoughts, filled with colors and sounds and landscapes and all sorts of people and animals. I think that’s why it wasn’t a far stretch for me to believe in what I could not see. I very much believed in a world that existed outside of my external senses.
When I was introduced to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, I immediately believed. I suppose one could call this the gift of faith. But what solidified my belief was imagining these realms, these states of being. Of course I thought of them as geographical places when I was a little girl, but I found a strange comfort in knowing I was surrounded by angels and saints whenever I felt lost, lonely, or afraid.
In many ways, I believe this saved me from many potential spiritual and temporal pitfalls in my adolescence and young adulthood. That is not to say I did not sin; on the contrary, I did. But when I reflect on my youth, I recognize circumstances I placed myself and all of the harm that could have happened to me – but didn’t.
Relationships of every sort carry the potential to change our lives for the better, or for worse. What’s powerful about learning to love the saints is that we can hold a particular confidence in their friendship with us, knowing with certainty that they only want our good, as God wants our good. Therefore, entering into conversation with them will never fail us.
Some people think they have to adopt a devotion to a specific saint, maybe one who is popular or well known, but what I’ve discovered is that the saints whose intercession we most need will somehow find their way to us. Even obscure saints, such as fifth century bishops, might oddly become our “saint of the year,” if we choose to follow this devotion.
Because I have always found people and stories fascinating, it’s never been difficult for me to learn about the lives of the saints, across every racial and socioeconomic class, spanning ages and generations, educated or uneducated, male or female. Usually, my curiosity is piqued when I hear a tidbit of trivia about a particular saint. For instance, St. Ignatius of Loyola went from an incredibly affluent and powerful lifestyle to one of such extreme poverty that he begged for his food and self-flagellated.
I know a good many people who scoff at such behaviors, labeling these men and women as psychologically disordered. Maybe they were. Maybe they weren’t. They were human, after all. The point is not so much that they may or may not have been mad; for me, the point is, what am I drawn to about this person’s life? A particular virtue? His or her vocation? Life of prayer? Mystical experiences of total union with God?
At various points throughout our lives, we may find ourselves drawn to different saints. For me, it seems the ones who have absolutely nothing in common with my life (recall the fifth century bishop who combatted several early heresies in the Church) find their way to accompany me for a season. I learn more about who they were – not just the extraordinary aspects of their lives, but more importantly, what made them human, how they fell or where their areas of weaknesses were.
It’s the humanity we all share in common that connects us at the heart level. It’s in the weaknesses of many saints where I find myself in their stories, because I can be more vulnerable and honest about what I struggle with – and I can ask them to help me overcome my own faults and sins.
Praying a formal novena or holy card prayer isn’t necessary in order to dive deeply into relationship with the saints. During times in my life when I feel most alone and no saint really seems close to my heart, I simply wait. I ask God for a heavenly friend. And He always sends me one – as I mentioned, one I would least expect.
Then, the saints somehow become part of my spiritual family. I imagine each of them assisting me as I engage in spiritual combat with the Enemy. They are a bizarre, invisible group gathered at my side. Some were fifteenth century hermits. Others nineteenth century cloistered mystics. Some were young, others old. Some from farming communities, others who were wealthy and prestigious (Queen Elizabeth of Hungary is my Confirmation saint). Finally, some are angels with wings towering above the tallest trees in my backyard.
The saints love us, because they first love God. Their sole purpose is to help us get to Heaven. All we need to do is pay attention to who they are and which ones come knocking on our hearts. Then, learn a little about them. Talk to them. Ask them questions, even strange ones. Then, listen again.
When you find yourself in a time of severe trial, pray for them to help you. And they will.
Image: Shutterstock/Jasen Wright