The holiness of saints is reflected through a balance of overcoming human struggles and maintaining an ability to transmit a joy that comes from being loved by God.
At a conference on holiness held in October at the Vatican, Pope Francis said that the gift of sharing the love and mercy Christians receive from God “enables us to experience an immense joy that is not a fleeting emotion or mere human optimism, but the certainty that we can face every challenge with the grace and the assurance that come from God.”
The Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1, giving honor to the women and men recognized by the Catholic Church for their lives of holiness. On Nov. 2, the Church also observes the feast of All Souls, remembering those who are in purgatory and still on the path to sainthood in God’s heavenly kingdom.
The saints are a source of inspiration for us to grow in holiness and join them one day in heaven, which is the ultimate goal of our earthly lives.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the saints as “witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,” who share the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, their writing and their prayer today.
Father Cassian Koenemann, a Benedictine monk and prior at St. Louis Abbey in Creve Coeur, recently earned his licentiate in spiritual theology, which he described as the “science of the saints.” As part of his studies, Father Koenemann published a book, “The Grace of Nothingness,” which examines the spiritual life of Blessed Columba Marmion, a fellow Benedictine who lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries and is on the path to sainthood.
Blessed Marmion was an intellectual, known for his gift for writing and ability to make spiritual theology understandable to a wider audience. He wrote, for example, that God is constantly willing our sanctification — the act of becoming holy — and He works hand-in-hand with our own humanly efforts toward sanctification.
“(God) is constantly reworking us as many times as we need to become the most graced version of ourselves,” Father Koenemann said. “How comforting that God is always working to make me the best version of myself. I can trust Him in the process more, knowing that He is looking out for me.”
Spiritual theology is a discipline that applies theology to a person’s life — specifically how to grow in holiness. It examines ways of praying, practicing the faith and relying on the will of God in our constant conversion.
“We’re all called to be holy, and I know that I needed help,” Father Koenemann said of his decision to pursue his licentiate in spiritual theology. “In particular, I wanted to learn why so many saints say, ‘I am nothing,’ and what they meant by that. Blessed Marmion was key in helping me to understand that. (The saints) used that as a phrase to help them in having a humble confidence in God.”
>> The complaints of the saints
Saints are human, and humans complain. Despite the images of sanctity that are often associated with saints, each one faced challenges in their lives. And it wasn’t always easy to handle those struggles gracefully, said Sister Mary Lea Hill, a Daughter of St. Paul and author of “Complaints of the Saints,” in which she shares relatable stories of saints and their responses to suffering.
St. Jerome was a prime example, who was known for having a terrible temper, Sister Mary Lea said.. There are letters between him and St. Augustine and others, who argued over the interpretations of the Bible. “They said horrid stuff to one another,” she said. “He was forever finding reasons to be irritated with people.” And yet, he is a canonized saint who was a holy man, aside from having a problem with his temper.
Sister Mary Lea noted that all humans are a work in progress as we strive toward holiness. “You don’t reach a point in your life if you’re trying hard and you’re never going to do wrong again,” she said. “As long as we are alive, we can sin.”
Practicing virtue is important, just like someone who would practice an instrument. “It’s like if you want to play a horn, it can be very obnoxious and annoying until we get it,” she said. “Everything in life is practicing to become perfect. We can get distracted along the way. It’s all about being obedient to the way God wants us to live and humbling ourselves if we fail.”
Saints (and those on the path) with a St. Louis connection
St. Peter Claver
Born: June 26, 1581
Died: Sept. 7, 1654
Feast day: Sept. 9
Synopsis: A Spanish Jesuit priest, St. Peter Claver devoted his priestly ministry to slaves in Colombia. He cared for the sick and dying among them as well as catechizing them. He fought for the end of the slave trade and for the fair treatment of slaves by plantation owners in the U.S. A miracle for his canonization occurred at St. Joseph Shrine in St. Louis, where Ignatius Strecker was cured of a lingering, severe injury after kissing a relic of then-Blessed Peter Claver.
St. Rose Philippine Duchesne
Born: Aug. 29, 1769
Died: Nov. 18, 1852
Beatified: May 12, 1940
Canonized: July 3, 1988
Feast day: Nov. 18
Synopsis: Baptized at the Church of St. Louis in Grenoble, France, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne was among the sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart sent to answer Bishop Louis DuBourg’s call to evangelize and educate Native American and French children near the Louisiana Purchase outpost of St. Louis. She founded the first school west of the Mississippi in St. Charles, and Native Americans dubbed her “Quah-kah-ka-numd-ad” — i.e. “woman who always prays.”
On the road to sainthood
Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos
Born: Jan. 11, 1819
Died: Oct. 4, 1867
Beatification: April 9, 2000
About Blessed Seelos: Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos was a Redemptorist priest who made his debut preaching in Missouri. With several Redemptorist companions, Father Seelos preached a parish mission in German at St. Mary of Victories Church in St. Louis in October 1865, soon after the Civil War. Father Seelos, who was born in Fussen, Bavaria, Germany, joined the Redemptorists to minister to German-speaking immigrants in the United States and was ordained to the priesthood in Baltimore, Maryland. Father Seelos was known for being kind and approachable, and his reputation as a confessor and spiritual director attracted people all over. He practiced a simple lifestyle and was well-known as a catechist for children. From 1863-66 he was a traveling preacher in many states, including Missouri.
Venerable Father Augustus Tolton
Born: April 1, 1854
Died: July 9, 1897
Named Venerable: June 11, 2019 by Pope Francis
Synopsis: Born into slavery in Brush Creek, Missouri, Father Augustus Tolton escaped with his family to Quincy, Illinois, in 1862. Baptized Catholic, he attended parochial school in Quincy, then went to Rome for priestly formation and was ordained in 1886, becoming the first Black Catholic priest in the U.S. After a warm welcome back in Quincy, he later faced outright discrimination. He moved to Chicago and set up St. Monica Parish, which thrived as the national church for Blacks.
Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun
Born: April 20, 1916
Died: May 23, 1951
Named Servant of God: 1993 by Pope John Paul II
Synopsis: From the Wichita, Kansas, diocese, Father Kapaun received formation at Kenrick Seminary in Shrewsbury, Class of 1940. He was an Army chaplain in World War II and the Korean War, where he became a prisoner of war in 1950. He ministered to other POWs before becoming ill with dysentery, pneumonia and a blood clot, and his captors left him to die because he gave POWs hope. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Medal of Honor in 2015.
Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman
Born: Dec. 29, 1937
Died: March 30, 1990
Named Servant of God: June 1, 2018
Synopsis: Born a Protestant, Sister Thea Bowman converted to Catholicism at 9 years old. She joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and, with Sister Antona Ebo, FSM, helped found the National Black Sisters Conference. After teaching at the grade school, high school and college levels, she directed intercultural awareness for the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, evangelizing Black Catholics across the U.S., even as she battled the cancer to which she succumbed. A school in East St. Louis, Illinois, is named after her.
>> Canonization process
Servant of God: The person’s cause is presented to and accepted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The title Servant of God is given to a candidate for sainthood whose cause is still under investigation.
Venerable: Once approved, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declares that the person has heroically lived the Christian virtues.
Beatification: The congregation recognizes that the person is in heaven and is given the title Blessed. This requires that a miracle has taken place through the intercession of the person.
Canonization: A second miracle is needed to declare someone a saint. The pope confers with the Cardinals of the Church and a date for the saint’s canonization ceremony is determined.
To read more about the Church’s process of canonization and history of declaring saints, visit www.usccb.org/offices/public-affairs/saints.