He dwells among us: With the help of the saints

Holiness is answer to question of what it means to be truly human; saints are special friends to help us

Shortly after his election as pope in 1958, the world was introduced to the quick wit and humor of Blessed John XXIII. “Anybody can be Pope,” he exclaimed, and “the proof of this is that I have become one.”

But with his approaching canonization and that of Blessed John Paul II on April 27, the Feast of the Divine Mercy, we are reminded it is even more true that anyone can and should be a saint—proof of this are the very saints themselves representing people of every walk of life, age, and time.

It is said that the saddest thing in life is to not be a saint. And among the reasons for this is that holiness answers the question of what it means to be fully human. The saints help to answer the universal question, “Who am I and what must I do?” As such, the Church holds the saints up to us as a mirror that helps us to see ourselves in their journey and their struggles, and to ask their help.

The saints also remind us that we are not alone, that none of us lives a life independent of others, for to live in Christ is to live in the company of all of his friends, living and dead, in a true communion as the body of Christ.

Because there are not two bodies of Christ, as if there were one for the living and one for the dead, but only one body of Christ, our friendships should not be limited to just those of this earthly realm. Just as we have close and trusted friends in this life that we stay in regular touch with and who can be counted on in times of need, so even more so should we have saint friends.

I always have had a strong devotion to St. Joseph, but he certainly is not jealous that I have other saint friends who I call upon frequently for help. Though our diocese is entrusted to the care of our Blessed Mother, I do not think she minds that we have as our secondary patron Blessed John Paul II.

Many of our parishes are named after these close friends of Christ and are entrusted to their special care and intercession. Soon, two of our Catholic communities will reflect the new title of their patron with their canonization: St. John XXIII Parish and Catholic Center in Knoxville, and St. John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge.

In anticipation of this joint canonization, I have been watching a number of excellent movies and documentaries on their lives that are not only entertaining, but very informative and inspiring.

The three-hour movie dramatizing the life of Blessed John XXIII, titled The Pope of Peace, is very well done. One scene I found particularly moving was when Blessed John XXIII visited a prison in Rome, telling the inmates, “You could not come to me, so I came to you.” That is what a saint does—he brings Christ to others no matter where they are, no matter what they have done.

The movies and documentaries on Blessed John Paul II are far more numerous and those dramatizing his life are particularly well done. A four-disc documentary titled John Paul II: the Man, the Pope, and His Message is an excellent catechetical aid. These movies and others on the lives of many other saints are available at the Paraclete Bookstore in Knoxville next to the Cathedral.

If Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II are known for their heroic virtue and deep love of God and neighbor, it is because they also sought the help of the saints.

Known for his outgoing pastoral style, Blessed John XXIII drew particular inspiration and help from two great saints of the Church—St. Charles Borromeo and St. Francis de Sales.

Given the important part that St. Charles Borromeo played during the Council of Trent, we can understand why Blessed John XXIII was so close to him. As he was 77 years old when he became pope, many expected Blessed John XXIII to simply be a “caretaker pope” who would make few changes. But only three months into his pontificate, he announced his intention to convene an ecumenical (world-wide) council of the Church “to throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in.”

Only two weeks before the Council was to open on Oct. 11, 1962, Blessed John XXIII was diagnosed with stomach cancer, dying nine months later on June 3, 1963. Shortly before his death, the “Pope of Peace” would leave the world an encyclical, Pacem in Terris—Peace on Earth. Like his episcopal motto, Obedientia et Pax—“Obedience and Peace,” Blessed John XXIII never tired of reminding the world that Christ is our true peace, and that his saints help to make the world more human.

Blessed John Paul II also was deeply devoted to many saints. It was St. Faustina’s message of Divine Mercy that helped form an image of his pontificate as “the Great Mercy Pope.” Blessed John Paul II died on the vigil of the feast of the Divine Mercy in 2005, a feast he established to be celebrated on the second Sunday of Easter.

Six years later, he was beatified on this feast day and will again be canonized on this special day. Indeed, without the Divine Mercy, there can be no saints, and so we must trust in God’s merciful love, repeating those words that St. Faustina gave to pray that I have taken as my own episcopal motto—“Jesus, I trust in you.”

Another saint that had a profound effect upon Blessed John Paul II was the French priest St. Louis de Montfort, whom Blessed John Paul II credits with helping to develop his strong love and devotion to Mary. It was from St. Louis’ spiritual classic, True Devotion to Mary, that John Paul II took two words —Totus Tuus—as his episcopal motto as an expression of his total consecration to Christ through Mary: Totus Tuus ego sum, et omnia mea tua sunt—“I am all Yours, and all that I have is Yours.”

During his long pontificate, Blessed John Paul II would beatify 1,338 men and women, and canonize 482 saints—more than in the previous 500 years of the Church. But the Church does not “make saints,” as some refer to it, only God does, and with God’s grace and the help of the saints, we will add to their numbers and be the face, the voice and the hands of Jesus to all we meet.