Almost anyone who is a younger child knows the struggle of measuring up to their older siblings. You may roll your eyes a little bit when a friend tells you how wonderful your sister is, or how polite your brother is growing up to be. And if you haven’t had that problem, don’t worry—Catholics have 10,000 older siblings, and they’re all perfect.
I’m referring, of course, to the Communion of Saints, which the Church celebrated earlier this month on All Saints Day (and which it continues to celebrate nearly every day with the feasts of specific individuals). This is a group of diverse people who all have at least two things in common: first, they’re dead; and second, regardless of the mistakes and sufferings in their lives, they let God’s love win in them. It’s the second fact that puts us in awe of these remarkable men and women. They are martyrs, confessors, doctors, lawyers, priests, nuns, kings, and sailors—some of them had egos like kings and swore like sailors—and despite all of that, by the grace of God, they found their way to Heaven. It was an uphill battle, to be sure, but they got there.
When I was a child, I loved to tell my friends about the saints. I often had a captive audience when I repeated the stories—my non-Catholic friends were spellbound by these almost unreal characters. But the best thing about the saints is that they are real; they weren’t perfect from the beginning. If their biographies alone don’t reveal their earthly faults, their diaries do: saints like Faustina and Thérèse of Lisieux didn’t shy away from recording their imperfections. This is a reassuring fact for us. It reminds us that every saint, at some point, had a little ways to go before they became holy. At the same time, they did become perfect in the end, and I think that’s what often intimidates us about them. We start to develop the younger-sibling syndrome—i.e., that we can never really measure up to those who came before us. We don’t have the right kind of face for a prayer card; we don’t have a short, catchy life motto; and really, are our friends holy enough that we can be labelled “St. ______ and Companions”? We continue to love the saints, of course. But when we start to become older than St. Stanislaus and St. Maria Goretti were when they attained perfection, we start to wonder if we’ve messed up.
And the answer is yes, we have messed up. But the saints could all say the same about themselves at one point, and look where they are now—happy, in Heaven, and ready to help us. That’s a third fact they have in common that I didn’t mention earlier: the saints are here to bring us to where they are.
If you think about it, each saint has relied on the help of their predecessors. St. Anthony has probably aided many holy individuals in finding their keys, and I bet that someone we venerate now once asked St. Blaise for help with a sore throat. The saints are here for non-trivial matters, too—help with serious sins, temptations, and struggles. In a throng of over 10,000 men and women (not counting those saints we know nothing about), you are guaranteed aid in whatever troubles you’re facing. That is the dynamic reality of the Communion of Saints: they are not a fresco of haloed figures frozen in time. They are continually present, continually praying, continually looking upon the face of God—and continually rooting for us. Though their lives are complete, ours are not, and until the last person enters Heaven, their ears will be open to our prayers.
This is your family. Celebrate their feast days, learn their stories, and talk to them—they’re here to pick on you.