All Saints

The Saints Go Marching In: Not Truly Dead, But Alive In Christ

Tomorrow, Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day and Wednesday is the celebration of All Souls’. The Church knows that there are many holy men, women and children who will never be formally recognized as saints; the celebration of All Saints’ allows us to ponder our own destiny with the multitude of holy souls now enjoying God’s eternal love and presence. All Souls’ Day reminds us that, as Catholics, we never presume that someone is in Heaven, and our prayers for the dead are necessary and good. The Catechism states:

1054 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.

1055 By virtue of the “communion of saints,” the Church commends the dead to God’s mercy and offers her prayers, especially the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, on their behalf.


Catholics are often accused of praying to the dead (Ok, we kinda do that. It’s called “intercession.”) or worshiping the dead (No, we don’t.) While we understand that our earthly bodies with die, we know our soul is eternal. It is that soul which God created and has set in place for all eternity, made to be with Him forever.

At the core of the practice of praying to the saints is the belief that the saints are alive in Christ and full members of the community of believers, the Mystical Body of Christ. As St. Paul proclaims:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)

When we live a life of grace and virtue, if you “put to death the deeds of the body,” then we will live (Rom 8:13). Yes, every person’s time on this earth must come to an end, but if we die in grace and righteousness, then we’ll live forever with God in heaven. The fact that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – prophets who died a long time ago – can still be declared by Jesus to be the God of the living (cf. Mt 22:32) is proof that the saints are very much alive. [emphasis added]

In 1938, jazz legend Louis Armstrong recorded, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Like many Gospel and jazz songs, the origins of this song are unclear, and there are several versions of it. However, the jazz version remains the best known. It is a “folk version” of our wish to join in the heavenly “parade” of holy men, women and children:

Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
Oh, when the trumpet sounds its call
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
Oh, when the horsemen begin to ride
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

We are meant to desire Heaven. Each and every one of us should consider ourselves destined to be saints; it is only our sinful choices that keep us from this. We “want to be in that number:” those who have overcome sin, by the grace of God, and then die in the peace of Christ. Tomorrow, as we begin the month of November, we pause to thank God for the saintly lives we look to imitate, for the men and women we have known personally who strived to be like Christ in their own lives and now have moved on from this world, and to remember to pray for the dead – for we know that they are not truly dead, but alive in Christ.

Below, jazz musician Wynton Marsalis offers his take on the “Saints” hymn. He calls it a song of “revelation and redemption.” It’s not a bad way to kick off the month of November for Catholics, as we pray for our dead, and look forward to joining the saints in Heaven.

catholic home

5 Ways To Keep A Catholic Home

When you’re a guest in someone’s home, you can learn a lot about your hosts’ family just by looking around. Lots of family pictures tell you that they value family. A room with a piano and other musical instruments tells you they are musicians.

If someone walked into your home, would they know how much your faith means to you?

Don’t think you need to turn your home into a shrine, with statues and candles at every turn. However, you can use a few creative methods to make your space more of the domestic church our homes are meant to be as Catholics. Here are just some ideas:

  1. Celebrate baptism days. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy; simply enjoy a good meal with a nice dessert. Of course, use this opportunity to pull out your child’s baptismal candle and the white garment given to them on the day of their baptism. Talk about what these mean, and how your child can live out his/her baptismal promises. If your child’s godparents live close enough, invite them to the celebration.
  2. Make sure the liturgical year is celebrated at home. Even if you’re not crafty or an artist, you can still enjoy making memories and reinforcing the faith with your kids by making Lenten paper chains, lighting Advent candles, and setting up a Nativity scene. Even the youngest members of the family can join in  fun, simple ways to bring your Catholic faith home. It also reinforces that our faith is not just for church on Sunday, but the way we live every day.
  3. Buy a holy water font and fill it with holy water. Many people are a bit taken back by this, but indeed, it is perfectly acceptable for us to have holy water fonts in our home. You can put one by the entrance you and your family use the most, blessing yourselves as you come and go. Or consider putting one in every family member’s bedroom. It re-connects us with our baptism and is another wonderful way to reinforce the domestic church. (By the way, if you’re not sure where/how to get holy water, ask your pastor. Most churches either have a dispenser in the church or allow  you to get water from the baptismal font.)
  4. Use Catholic art. Perhaps a small statue or a picture of your child’s patron saint in his/her bedroom would be a good place to begin. You can also create a family altar. It doesn’t require a lot of money, but it’s a terrific reminder that we have “friends in high places” who are eager and willing to pray for us.
  5. Make sure you have at least one crucifix prominently displayed in your home. This isn’t simply a way to display your faith, but a way to remind us constantly of Christ’s greatest gift to us. In addition, we know every time we look at the crucifix that we are called to suffer in communion with Him, sacrificing in a small way every moment of every day in imitations of Christ’s great sacrifice.

Oh, and one more thing: go to Mass! Even if you can only go on Sundays, the Mass is the single most important prayer of the Church and the family. Yes, sometimes it’s hard to get there: kids are wiggly or grouchy, we want to sleep late, we are on the road for a long weekend. However, there is not any excuse (other than great sickness or caring for the someone who is ill) that should keep us from Mass. A healthy family spiritual life always begins and ends with the Mass.

As we look to the end of this Year of Mercy, it is so important that we remember our homes should be places of comfort, mercy and forgiveness.

In our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces – we can be bearers of God’s mercy. Furthermore, in this jubilee year, we are challenged to break out of our routine lives and go the extra mile by actively seeking out those who are in need of the grace and peace of Jesus’ merciful touch. The notion of “jubilee” is an invitation to be “extravagant” ambassadors of mercy: merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful – without boundaries, without constraints, with our hearts full of solidarity for all humanity.

So, then, as we become agents and witnesses to mercy, we will be able, as a family of faith, to recreate our local parishes into “oases of mercy” for the life of the world around us. In a world too often experienced as a barren desert, bereft of true mercy and compassion, we will provide an oasis of healing and tenderness, because we ourselves have been touched and changed by mercy.

With just a few simple and on-going changes to our homes, we can ensure that we are truly living our faith whether we are at home, at church, or out in the world. “You are the light of the world,” Christ teaches us, “… your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”


Why Am I Here? To Become A Saint

“Why am I here?” It is an eternal human question. We all want to have a meaningful life … but what is that meaning? Young people, graduating from high school and college, ask this. We ask ourselves this when we are in despair, when we are hopeful, when we are lonely. It is the question of youth, of middle age, of the elderly. Why am I here? God answers, “To be holy. To become a saint.”

Of course, we all have our own paths in life. We have different jobs, different callings, different vocations. We go through various stages of life, and hopefully learn, as we go, more about God, ourselves and others. But God has only one plan for everyone: to be holy, to become a saint.

“Me?” you may ask. “Me? A saint?”

“Oh, no. That is only for really holy people. Extraordinary people. People who pray ALL the time. I’m not like that.

What is that like? What does it truly mean to be a saint, and why is God calling all of us to this? One of the documents from Vatican II, Lumen Gentium (Light of Nations), says there is a “universal call to holiness.”

[A]ll Christ’s faithful, whatever be the conditions, duties and circumstances of their lives—and indeed through all these, will daily increase in holiness, if they receive all things with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father and if they cooperate with the divine will. In this temporal service, they will manifest to all men the love with which God loved the world. (41)

Two sentences answer the question, “Why am I here?” But those two sentences are “heavy duty.” We must trust God, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. We must be open to faith, even when it seems dim and distant. We must acknowledge that our heavenly Father has a plan for us, and we must conform our lives to that plan. We must serve others always, making known to all God’s love for them in our daily actions.

“Why am I here?”

Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive. Let all then have care that they guide aright their own deepest sentiments of soul. Let neither the use of the things of this world nor attachment to riches, which is against the spirit of evangelical poverty, hinder them in their quest for perfect love. Let them heed the admonition of the Apostle to those who use this world; let them not come to terms with this world; for this world, as we see it, is passing away. (42)

Go. Become a saint.


The Communion And Friendship of Saints

A saint, as defined by the Catholic Church, is one who has “preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2683)

For some of us, a saint is a plaster statue, pious-looking but not very human. Or a saint might be that person you studied in middle school so you could pick out a cool Confirmation name. But if this is where our relationships with the saints begins and ends, we miss out on so much.

Scripture tells us (in Hebrews) that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” That’s the saints. They witness to us the great love of God. They loved God, know that God loves them, and want others to know that love. That’s what the saints all have in common.

Yet, if you study the saints, you will find as many personalities, gifts, life choices and challenges as there are stars in the sky. And this is the Church’s gift to us: the saints – our “big” brothers and sisters in faith – show us how to love God, love others and do God’s will in many different ways, many different walks of life.

Take for instance St. Gianna Molla. She was a 20th century woman: a doctor, a wife and mother, an athlete. She loved her family and sought to serve God in her work. She also loved life: the life of the family and the life of the  unborn. When she was pregnant with her fourth child, it was discovered that she had a uterine tumor. Any treatment of the tumor would likely result in the death of the baby, so Gianna and her husband chose to continue the pregnancy. A little girl was born healthy, but Gianna lost her life. She told her doctors: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child – I insist on it. Save the baby.” St. Gianna Molla is a powerful witness for the pro-life movement, for modern mothers who seek to balance work and home, and for those who are faced with frightening medical decisions.

St. Hildegard of Bingen is also a saint and female, but that might be all she has in common with Gianna. Hildegard lived in the 12th century and was a Benedictine nun (the Benedictines were known then for their rather strict way of life.) She received visions from God, which she said made her see her fellow humans as “living sparks” of the love of God. She loved Scripture and loved helping others understand it. She was a scientist, a musician, and founded convents. Her writings are so profound that Pope Benedict XVI declared her a “Doctor of the Church,” a title given to only 35 saints in the Church’s history. A Doctor of the Church is someone whose life work has contributed greatly to theology and/or doctrine of the Catholic Church.

These are just two examples of saints, but these two women show the depth and breadth of the saints. A wife and mother, a nun. A modern doctor, a medieval seeker of healing in plants. An athlete, a musician.

The saints are not plaster people. They are real. They struggled with the same things we struggle with: family issues, doubts in faith, anger, jealousy, money problems. They knew challenges and disappointments, hostility from those who were supposed to support them and those who questioned their devotion as maybe just a little … crazy. For whatever you struggle with, there is a saint who has “been there and done that.”

Catholics do not pray to the saints. We pray to God alone. But just like you might ask a friend to pray for an issue you’re struggling with, we ask the saints for their intercession before the throne of God. They now live eternally in God’s presence, so who better to buddy up with?

A caution: saints are not magical. The Church warns us against going beyond devotion to a particular saint and veering off into some sort of enchantment: “If I say just the right words to just the right saint, I’ll get what I want.”

Adoration is the worship and homage that is due to God alone. The Saints are human like you and I.  They are not divine. Adoration of the saints has never been nor will ever be part of Catholic teaching or prayer. We venerate the saints.

That being said, we are strongly encouraged to make friends with the saints. (Keeping in mind that they are not dead, but alive in Christ!) We often refer to “patron saints;” these are the saints we may be named after, the saint on whose feast day we were born, that person you chose for your Confirmation name are all patrons. We should have a relationship with them. The Church encourages us to learn about the saints: read biographies, read the saints’ own writings, emulate how they prayed. In this way, we learn how to more and more become holy: these brothers and sisters in the faith become examples of how to overcome our sinfulness, despite all the human challenges we face.

As we pray when we pray the Litany of the Saints, may all the holy men and women pray for us!