1. The saints are models of Christian life whom the Church proposes for our imitation.7 They are also intercessors on our behalf—again, a role in which the Church commends them to us. But, potentially, our relationship to the saints involves still more than this (see LG 48–50).
2. Each of the saints is in heaven because he or she shared in Jesus’ redemptive commitment and lived a personal life which fulfilled this commitment in a clear and outstanding manner. Like Jesus himself, each saint was trying to do a job, a job which, like his, was never entirely done. The love which perfects God’s family is strengthened when we love the saints, thank God for them (see LG 50), and with friendship carry on what they were trying to do.
3. For example, one who wishes to do apostolic work is a colleague of the apostles and of apostolic persons of all times, continuing what each of them wished to do and gave his or her life in doing. One engaged in theological labor for the Church works along with St. Augustine and St. Thomas and all the others who have done such work. One who seeks truly to reform the Church works with St. Catherine. One who strives to build up a genuine Christian humanism cooperates with St. Thomas More. This is more than just a pious thought. It is a fact which flows from the reality of membership in God’s apostolic family.
4. To the extent we share with saints not only in the common commitment of following our Lord Jesus but some more special form of serving him, it is appropriate that we develop a special closeness to some of them. Their lives exhibit many more definite aspects of goodness and particular ways of holiness to imitate than we can find in the individual, though absolutely perfect, life of Jesus himself. Furthermore, since we share in their work, it is only to be expected that they do what they can to help us. These close personal relationships with real though invisible friends give our hope a concreteness and vivacity it otherwise lacks.
One who is conscious of the communion of saints, which gathers together God’s children of every time and place, is not likely to be overly impressed with arguments based on the values of contemporary humankind. The “contemporary” world rapidly passes away; the relevance of today is the straitjacket of tomorrow. Do sixty-three percent of those questioned in some poll disregard the teaching of the Church on some matter? A serious situation to be sure. But why do members of this one generation imagine their judgment to be a reflection of anything but rationalization, when a far larger number of persons already has reached heaven by accepting this teaching and striving to live up to it, often with great sacrifices which showed a love of Jesus not so evident today?
5. Above all the other saints we honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom he gave us as our own mother. Her personal vocation is a unique exemplar for all other human beings called to share in Jesus’ redemptive work (see LG 53). When the angel proposed that Mary be the mother of Jesus and she agreed, she showed how the work of redemption can depend upon the willing cooperation of human persons (see Lk 1.38). Her natural motherhood demonstrated the limited individuality of Jesus, his human dependence upon others. Her continuing work for our redemption exemplifies the manner in which all the holy commitments of Christians contribute to completion in the Lord Jesus and will last forever (see LG 65).
6. Since Mary’s personal vocation was related in a unique way to that of Jesus, we should love her with a special love and share in carrying on her work. Thus, she is a model for our imitation and a helper in our lives. Although she was not a liberated woman, she is the model for all truly liberated men and women, for she lived and she lives in the glorious liberty which belongs to God’s children—the liberty of a life of love according to the Spirit.
Mary also provides a special ground for our hope. God’s faithfulness is the fundamental ground of hope; the resurrection of Jesus is the primary evidence of this faithfulness and the exemplar of our own resurrection to come. But without Mary one might doubt that God could bring human persons to share in divine glory. Mary is a created person just as we are. Her greatness depends entirely upon God’s grace. What he has done for her he can do for us. Our limitations need not make us doubt. Even our sinfulness need not make us despair, for the same redeeming love which preserved Mary from sin and death can heal our sins and raise us from death to life.
7. For a sound theological treatment of the saints: Paul Molinari, S.J., Saints: Their Place in the Church (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965). A remarkable work of lay theology by a leader of the charismatic renewal: Judith Tydings, Gathering a People: Catholic Saints in Charismatic Perspective (Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1977).