One important mark of a Christian life is praying for others. We pray for our family and friends, and ask friends and family to pray for us all the time. Sometimes we forget that we have even more family in heaven, in the saints! This week’s article is a quick exploration of why it is good to develop relationships with the saints, how to grow that relationship, and how to find more saints to help you with your life.
Disclaimer: much of the content of this article was inspired by an educational talk (not homily) given by a Byzantine Catholic priest. He wishes to remain nameless, but a lot of credit is due to him. So, if you could say a prayer for him, that would be great!
Top Reasons to Develop a Relationship with the Saints
3. They’ve been through it all already
As St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7, to paraphrase, the saints “have fount the good fight, … have finished the race, [and] have kept the faith.” The saints been through the struggles of life. So when we are having a hard time, they’ve shared those struggles with us and can understand as they intercede for us.
2. They know God so intimately
As members of the Church we are connected to the blessed in heaven. These saints have achieved holiness, making their prayers powerful and effective.
In Byzantine spirituality, we tend to focus our theology on how we can participate in the life of the Trinity on Earth in the present. And yet, this does not minimize our connection to the saints, who we know are able to participate in the life of the Trinity in heaven. In Christ Our Pascha: Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, it states that the saints “have obtained gift of God’s likeness, having made the journey from the “image” to the “likeness” of God” (318). In icons of the saints, we show them staring at us, so that we can “look through their eyes into the divine.” The saints have a lot to teach us about being close to God.
1. The saints are more interested in your salvation than you are
In Luke 15:10, Jesus says “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” And now that saints have joined the angels in heaven, they too, rejoice as God’s beloved children return to Him. We want our friends and family members to go to heaven. But imagine how much more so they will want us there when they experience heaven themselves! So the saints really want to pray for you and aid you by their prayers and example.
There is no saint is closer to Jesus than Mary. Fun fact, when a woman is pregnant, blood cells from the child travel up the placenta and mix in with the blood cells of the mother. This is what enables health checks on an unborn baby through fetal cell testing. But these cells don’t go away after the birth of a baby. The child’s blood cells may be found living in the mother even 30 years after birth! This is called microchimerism, and you can read about it studies including one by DW Bianchi, Evans, GK Zickwolf, and GJ Well. Mary had Jesus’ blood living in her even before Christ instituted the Eucharist. Cool, eh?
So basically, when you’re ready to start developing a relationship with the saints, start with Mary! After Mary, move onto St. Joseph as a spiritual father. Quick tip from the Badger Dad: Although St. André Bessette is not byzantine, he is a great introduction into devotion to St. Joseph.
My favourite St. André story is the “St. Jospeh (please) pay your bills” story which is mentioned here, although I first heard it elsewhere.
What Saints Should You Get to Know
There are innumerable saints. I remember when I was first looking into picking a patron saint, and it felt overwhelming! Thankfully, God helps us find the saints we need when we need them. First of all, trust that saints come across your path for a reason. If you hear a saint mentioned or come across a name, look into that saint. You’re likely to find something out about that saint that resonates with you. Do the same think if there’s a saint that makes you feel uncomfortable. Look into them. They might be challenging you. And they might become your favourite saint (I know a few people that this happened to). Finally, if you struggle with a particular vice, look into saints that had the same problem. It helps you relate to them, and makes it easier for you to learn to grow close to the saint.
Don’t expect to feel connected to every saint. It isn’t a bad thing to get a big alphabetical book of saints and to go through it daily. But not every saint is going to be a big part of challenging you and bringing you to holiness in this life. Don’t feel bad if you’re looking into a saint and not feeling inspired. Leave them aside for now. Perhaps they may become a big part of your live later. Or not. God knows which saints he wants you to connect with now.
How to Get to Know the Saints
Read books about and by the saints. Stories about the saints help us to get to know them better, as does the writings by the saints. Any book written by a saint is going to be an engaging read!
Get icons of the saints. Icons are a great Byzantine method of becoming close to your saint. Besides learning about all the symbolism in your saint’s icon, looking at it can help remind you to ask for help/intercessory prayers. Sometimes I even take an icon off our icon corner table and just have a conversation with a saint. The tangible nature of icons helps me build that relationship, and grounds me if I’m overly emotional. Try it!
This is more a Western practice, but if you can’t find and icon try looking for a saint medal of the saint that you’re working to develop a relationship with. Saints medals are great, because they are a little bit like an icon you can wear.
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