Celebrate the Lives of the Saints

by James Martin, SJ

Why are more and more people interested in the saints? Well, the saints inspire us to lead joyful lives; they serve as role models; they teach us that holiness means being who you are; and—as an added benefit—they pray for us from their posts in heaven. But how can you help your parish enter into the lives of men and women whose experiences may seem distant from our own?

First, teach.

For many Catholics, the saints are just boring marble statues. By suggesting good books (and even videos) and teaching about the real lives of the saints yourself, parishioners will better see the saints as men and women who worked, prayed and celebrated much as they do. You will also show how God calls unlikely people to do great things. Think of someone like St. Peter. Imagine if he had said, “I’m just a fisherman. What can God do with me?”

Second, pray.

The lives of the saints are woven into the liturgical year. A saint’s feast day is always an opportunity to talk about his or her life, because the lives of the saints are always related to the Gospels. The Gospels are the scripts that the saints acted out in their lives. So, on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, why not talk about his life as you reflect on the Gospel for the day? Also, prayers like the Litany of the Saints, novenas, and the Rosary can be used not only to help parishioners understand the saints as their patrons, but as companions. That is, before these prayers, you can discuss their lives so that parishioners might better understand to whom they are praying.

Third, innovate.

How much do parishioners know about your parish’s patron saint? Having a gathering, lecture, party, or some special event on the parish feast day might be a great way to teach about the saint and to build parish unity. Also, as spiritual directors, are you giving people only passages from Scripture for prayer? What about readings from the writings of the saints? Finally, do the younger parishioners know about their patron saints? An essay contest on the lives of their patron saints might help them feel closer to them. Overall, be creative—the saints were!

James Martin, SJ

James Martin, SJ

James Martin, SJ, is associate editor of America magazine and a prolific author, writer, and editor.

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