March brings us to Lent, that solemn season of the Church year in which we are called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is also a time to reevaluate our lives, reflecting on how we can more perfectly radiate Christ as joyful witnesses. Given our fallen human nature, this is no easy task. Fortunately, we do not have to do it alone. God gave us the Church and the saints to help.
Although we worship only God, Christians have venerated saints as role models and intercessors since the earliest days of the Church. Images of these holy women and men in stained-glass windows, paintings and statues are like portraits of our family of faith. First-class relics evoke a special reverence, reminding us that saints were real people made of flesh and bone like us. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is built over the bones of St. Peter, the first pope, where pilgrims can still view them today.
One of the most moving parts of the Easter Vigil is the singing of the Litany of the Saints, which begins with: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. St. Michael, pray for us. Holy Angels of God, pray for us. St. John the Baptist, pray for us. St. Joseph, pray for us.” Although we can ask anyone to pray for us, we do so with special confidence when we appeal to the saints because we know that they are with God, as we hope to be someday.
The Blessed Mother is first among the saints, in the litany and in our devotion. She was Christ’s first disciple, conceived without sin by special grace. Last year I reconsecrated the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to her care and protection at the culmination of the archdiocese-wide Marian Pilgrimage celebrating the bicentennial of our local Church. For several years we have made our archdiocesan prayer for vocations “through the intercession of Mary our Mother,” and this has born great fruit in priestly and diaconal ordinations.
Apart from Mary, the saints were sinners just like us. That is why they are not only intercessors, but also role models: Their lives encourage us in our own journey toward sainthood because they faced and overcame the same sorrows and temptations that challenge us. In the hopeful words of the playwright Oscar Wilde, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
Many of us have favorite saints to whom we look for help and guidance. For some it may be St. Patrick, whose feast we celebrate on March 17, or St. Joseph, whom we venerate on March 19. My mother had a great devotion to St. Anthony of Padua, the 13th Century Franciscan friar and Doctor of the Church popularly known as the patron saint of lost things. Like her, I frequently turn to St. Anthony and try to follow his holy example.
Not all the saints are so remote from us in time. During the lifetimes of most of us, we have been inspired by the witnesses of St. Teresa of Kolkata and Popes St. John XXIII, St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, the last of whom I was blessed to know personally.
One of the hallmarks of saints is their concern for others reflected in acts of charity. As part of your Lenten almsgiving, I urge you to pledge what you can to the Catholic Ministries Appeal (CMA), our annual archdiocesan campaign to support six ministries that teach, feed and heal. In this way we together can help meet the material and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters, as Christians have done since apostolic times. I am very grateful to all who have made the CMA successful in recent years.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints accompany us on our Lenten journey toward Easter!