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DEAR FATHER | Saints are companions with whom we share share triumphs and struggles

A friend of mine asked me about why we focus so much on the saints. What should I tell her?

Not too long ago (more recently than I would like to admit) I realized that I really knew a saint for the first time. I had always been interested in the life of St. Philip Neri and was finishing reading a third book about his life. I had been studying his life, relating to him in prayer and even discussing his life with friends. After a while, one of my friends observed: “You talk about him as if you know him. I really enjoy hearing about your relationship with Philip.” It struck me that I hadn’t ever gotten to know a saint that well before. Looking back, I found that with Philip, I had a friend, a mentor and a coworker. Above all, I found that he was pointing me to a deeper love for Jesus and a more ardent desire to be a holy priest.

Perhaps it sounds trite or childish to say it so simply, but I cannot think of a better way: The saints are our friends. This is no small thing. “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He who finds one, finds a treasure” (Sirach 6:14). Aristotle observes in Book VIII of the Nichomachean Ethics, “Though he had all other goods, if a man does not have friendship, he would choose not to live.” How valuable, then, to have so many sturdy shelters in the Christian life! So many with whom we can share our joys and sorrows, our triumphs and struggles!

The saints are also my friends in my counseling room. I read about some researchers who performed an experiment to investigate the interaction between stress and relationships. Two groups of people were exposed to fear-inducing images (scary pictures), but one group had pictures of loved ones subliminally interspersed between the scary pictures. Interestingly, the group with the subliminal pictures of loved ones experienced significantly less fear than the other group, as evidenced by fMRI brain imaging. The researchers concluded that simply thinking about loved ones can decrease fear and stress. If those I am counseling are having difficulty with painful memories or trauma, I often ask them to call loved ones to mind. If they are Catholic, I might even ask them about their favorite saints, not only inviting them to imagine but to invoke that saint in the room, right then and there.

To put it plainly, the journey to heaven can sometimes be difficult and exhausting. Sometimes we are presented with grief, loss, tragedy, challenges at work or school, big life decisions, broken relationships, physical pain, sin and temptation. Why do we Catholics make such a big deal about the saints? Because God has given them to us as friends. In light of our challenges, the Lord not only consoles us with His own presence and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but He also shares His friends with us. Our minds and hearts are ordered aright when we honor them. They light the way by their example and prayers for us. They console us with their friendship.

Father Sullivan is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis pursuing continuing studies in psychology. He is currently enrolled at Divine Mercy University.

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