Saints’ titles: a challenge to consider how
Q. I go to daily Mass and enjoy hearing about the saints on their feast days. I have noticed that their titles have changed in recent years, and I have wondered which month has the most saints’ days. Can you say something about this? Thank you.
A. Your question is timely, because this month of August includes the most saints’ days: 1 solemnity (the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin on August 15), 2 feasts (Lawrence the deacon on August 10 and Bartholomew the apostle on August 24), 11 obligatory memorials (of saints celebrated by the whole Church because of their universal importance, like Saint Augustine of Hippo on August 28), and 12 optional memorials (of saints honored by particular churches, nations, and religious orders, like Saint Jane Frances de Chantal on August 12 and Saint Louis, king of France, on August 25).
The saints whom we commemorate in the liturgy remind us that Christian holiness intersects with time and space. This is certainly true of the saints in the reformed Roman Calendar of 1969, which deliberately includes saints from all Christian centuries and parts of the world and which has been expanded by canonizations under recent popes. Here we glimpse a whole People of God on pilgrimage together, living out the Christian story among them. Holiness is not manifested in some heaven, light years away; it must be manifested for us in this world, the one that God loved so much that God gave the only Son for its salvation. The saints whom we honor at the Eucharist and in the Liturgy of the Hours help us to learn or re-learn what is at the heart of the Gospel, so that we can make the Gospel visible, audible, and tangible for the people of our own time.
Saintliness is unique to each person. It grows and develops in unique ways in each person, and it can change in the course of a lifetime. The titles that the Church gives to canonized saints, for example, “apostle,” “religious founder,” “married woman,” give us some glimpse of how saintliness shaped the vocation of each saint we honor, but their saintliness never resulted from spiritual cloning. Each saint is a unique work of art fashioned by the Holy Spirit.
The Lutheran liturgical calendar has retained some traditional titles for the saints, for example, “martyr” and “bishop,” as well as some ecclesiastical designations, for example, “pastor” and “missionary.” But the Lutheran commemoration of holy ones includes a wide variety of believers from different historical eras and places, so there are people and titles like: Michelangelo Buonarroti, artist; Albrecht Durer, painter; Nicolaus Copernicus, teacher; Johann Sebastian Bach, musician; Isaac Watts, hymn writer; Dag Hammarskojld, peacemaker. And there are titles like “renewer of the Church” given to Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther, and “renewer of society” given to Florence Nightingale and Martin Luther King, Jr.
What about you? What might you like your saintly title to be? It is not premature to consider this, because, as Georges Bernanos said, “There is only one sadness; not to be a saint.” So: how would you like your saintly title to be phrased? Jesus gives us some suggestions in the Beatitudes. For there he lists some qualities that make excellent titles for us saints-in-training or saints-in-the-making. Can you hear yourself among them?
Widow, poor in spirit with Jesus.
Retired man, meek in spirit with Jesus.
Teenager, hungry and thirsty for righteousness with Jesus.
Doctor, giver of mercy with Jesus.
Mother, clean of heart with Jesus.
Social worker, peacemaker with Jesus.
Labor leader, persecuted for the sake of righteousness with Jesus.
Pro-life worker, opposed for the sake of Jesus.
Do any of these titles fit you? Would you like one or more of them to fit you? They must fit us if we are to be known as true followers of Jesus Christ. Our desire to be “blessed,” to be saints, in God’s future should determine what we are doing in our present: living the Beatitudes as only each of us can do and letting them shape us into God’s holy ones here and here-after. My self-chosen title? “Michael, Man of Praise at Collegeville,” due to my love for the liturgy as its teacher and disciple.
Before our worship on earth becomes our everlasting praise in heaven, why not begin creating a saintly title for ourselves by living it every day? Poor in spirit, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemaker, persecuted for Jesus: let us make one or more of these saintly titles our own. Before our life in this world becomes eternal life in the next, why not live now as the saintly people we hope to be for all eternity?