October 22, 2002

Friar Jack's Catechism Quiz:
Celebrating the Feasts of
All Saints and All Souls
by Julie Zimmerman

We Catholics have a complicated relationship with our saints. Stories of burying St. Joseph statues in our yards or praying to Mary for a good parking space cause many non-Catholics (and some Catholics) to shake their heads. And some of us Catholics view saints as dead people who were perfect, rather than human beings who suffered, sinned and doubted.

As we prepare to celebrate the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls (Nov. 1 and 2), it's a good time to look at what Catholics believe about saints. It's also important to remember that saints aren't supernatural beings to be worshiped. In fact, in the New Testament, the term saint often is a synonym for Christian. We are all saints and are called again and again to become saints in our lives.

For more on Halloween, All Saints and All Souls, check out the All Hallows Eve Web feature at AmericanCatholic.org.

In this issue we also offer some of the mail we received in response to Friar Jack's "Why St. Francis Treasured His Bond with Other Creatures."


This Month's Quiz: (peeking encouraged!)

Why do Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary, the saints and the angels?
Why does the Catholic Church emphasize saints' relics if Jesus says that the only way to heaven is through him?
When did we begin to venerate saints?

Friar Jack's Inbox:

Readers reflect on quot;Why St. Francis Treasured His Bond with Other Creatures"


Why do Catholics pray to the Virgin Mary, the saints and the angels?

Praying to Mary, the saints and the angels can sound like trying to get "friends in high places" to run interference for you. Although people sometimes seek such "friends" in order to get a speeding ticket fixed, buy merchandise at a lower price or have some problem resolved, for Catholics that is not what devotion to the saints represents.

God alone is the source of all grace and blessing. Saints do not "fix" things for us apart from God or convince God to do X rather than Y. At Vatican II, the bishops taught that the holiness of the Church "is shown constantly in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful and so it must be" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #39). Those "fruits of grace" are seen in the lives of saintly disciples, whether canonized or not.

Jesus was fully divine and fully human. As a human, Jesus could be only one gender, live at one time in history, grow up in one human culture, etc. Saints help us to see holiness as possible for ourselves because saints include men and women, married and single people who lived at various times in human history and in various cultures. Saints remind us that, no matter what sacrifices we may need to make in order to cooperate with God's grace, we are not the first people to make those sacrifices. If we ask our friends on earth to pray for us, why not ask our friends in heaven to do the same?

Adapted from "Ask A Franciscan," a feature in St. Anthony Messenger.

Why does the Catholic Church emphasize saints' relics if Jesus says that the only way to heaven is through him?

Relics do not save people, and the Catholic Church does not teach that they do. Jesus saves people.

Relics can, however, remind us of flesh-and-blood people who generously cooperated with God’s grace. Those saints, in turn, can encourage us to cooperate just as generously with God’s grace.

Many Christians can agree that Jesus Christ has saved us through his passion, death and resurrection. They will likely also agree that a person could choose not to accept salvation. How? By that person’s choices.

Saints remind us to make good and generous choices. Relics can remind us of saints (including Mary). All walked this earth and eventually gave God an accounting for their stewardship of resources, time and talent.

The Son of God became a human being, in the person of Jesus Christ, within a specific time and in a designated place. In a sense, relics remind us of Jesus’ Incarnation and of our need—right here, right now—to make choices which reflect and reinforce our identity as followers of Jesus.

Adapted from "Ask A Franciscan,"a feature in St. Anthony Messenger.

When did we begin to venerate saints?

The various Church communities cherished the early Christian martyrs and commemorated the anniversaries of their deaths (their birth into eternal life) by keeping all-night vigil at their graves and celebrating a Eucharist in the early morning.

By the time Christianity became an accepted religion in the Roman Empire, the cult of martyrs was well established and they were being invoked as intercessors. Particular saints could plead before God on behalf of certain communities or individuals.

Members of the community still living on earth could intercede on behalf of those in purgatory. Praying for the dead is based on the scriptural passage in 2 Maccabees 12:43-46: "It is a holy and wholesome thing to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins."

There was much emphasis placed on this idea of a saintly community in the early Church. All the saints—those on earth, those in heaven and those in purgatory—were seen as belonging to the one body of Christ.

St. John Chrysostom, who died in 407, called for a "feast of martyrs of the whole world." At his behest the feast of All Saints (All Hallows), those known and unknown, has been observed since his time.

The fourth-century Nicene Creed leaves us in no doubt of the importance of this early Church teaching. As Christians we profess a belief in the communion of saints.

Adapted from Scripture From Scratch, a newsletter from St. Anthony Messenger Press.

Friar Jack's Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack's reflections on "Why St. Francis Treasured His Bond with Other Creatures"

"Dear Friar Jack: 'Please explain what you meant when you said: Most of us rational animals tend to disown and distance ourselves from our animal natire, denying an important part of who we are.' "—EBW

Friar Jack responds: Some people follow a spiritual path that says we must reject this earth and the animal side of our identity and become pure spirits. Our Christian belief in the resurrection of the body tells us that our true nature and destiny is not simply to be spiritual beings but full human beings, embracing our animal (natural) side as well as our spiritual side. Of course, we are to use our spiritual gifts (like intelligence and free will and moral insight) to govern our total humanity in accordance with our Creator's plan for us. Wholesome human beings, in my judgment, do not reject their animal energies, but seek to channel them with wisdom, love and joy in the service of God and neighbor.

"Dear Friar Jack: I absolutely loved your musings on St. Francis and the animals. I am not only a follower of St. Francis, but also an animal justice activist and a non-meat eater. With this, I strive to bring across the message of St. Francis that all of creation is our brothers and sisters, including the animals...We animal justice activists are thought of as if we are nuts. Well, if they consider us nuts, then they must consider St. Francis a nut. With St. Francis probably being the greatest saint, I am glad to be in his company as a fellow nut.—Debbie

Friar Jack responds: Neither you nor St. Francis is a nut, in my judgment. I highly admire those who promote respect for animals and those who do not eat meat or choose to be vegetarians because of their great sensitivity and reverence for animals. Even though I have personally not reached the same level of conviction or action or consciousness (and I feel some twinge of conscience about it), I see your practice as a wonderful ideal—and I salute you for it.

Send your feedback to friarjack@franciscanmedia.org. Got an opinion on another topic? AmericanCatholic.org has expanded its Catholic message boards! We invite you to discuss the values of Spy Kids, talk about how you live out your baptismal call and tell us how the clergy sex-abuse crisis has affected your family. Read others' opinions and submit your own comments there for everyone to see!

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In this work of biographical theology, Hill uses stories and various sources to tell you how this diverse group of eight modern religious heroes see God: Mahatma Gandhi, Edith Stein, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Pierre de Chardin, Daniel Berrigan and Mother Teresa.
8 Spiritual Heroes:
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The Church has venerated Catholic saints since the beginning. Who are the saints? Who decides who is and is not a saint? How many are there? Visit our "Learning More About Saints" feature.

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For many of us, work is something to be endured until we can tend to things that are more pleasant, to enjoy "real living." In this new book, Roche challenges us to see the work of God in all our jobs and chores.
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Great Themes of Paul:
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