Why We Must Walk With Saints
The month of November is punctuated by a number of important feast days in the Roman calendar, beginning with All Saints Day.
It has long been a pious Catholic custom of naming people, places and churches after the saints.
In families, grandparents usually choose the saint names, sometimes assigning the saint on whose feast day the child was born.
Similarly, many churches in our country were named by our “grandparents in the faith”, the missionaries gone before us. It is not necessary to make wild guesses why in the diocese of Port Elizabeth, for instance, there are a number of parishes and schools called St Patrick.
I came across an interesting “naming” story, from over a hundred years ago, in a parish I served when I was a deacon, called Maria Hilf.
The name was chosen by German Dominican Sisters who went to instruct the people of the area in the faith, on horseback, while trying to establish a mission station there.
This mountainous area, in the rural Eastern Cape, is misty on most days. One has to imagine the great difficulty these Sisters experienced navigating through the forest, in search of the scattered homesteads.
The (almost legendary) story goes that, on the occasion of one of their missionary escapades, the Sisters got terribly lost. Right where they found themselves, they knelt down and prayed to Our Lady for assistance.
Soon one of the locals came to their rescue and led them back to their convent.
In gratitude, the Sisters erected a grotto on the spot, and the church was dedicated, by its German name, to Our Lady, Help of Christians.
It is no vain exercise naming our children after the saints, a tradition we are slowly losing. A connection of some sort is forged with one’s patron; after all, we believe in the Communion of Saints.
Our patron saints take on the role of protector and guide. They are the role models and heroes we need in our society.
Church history shows us that the Lord does not leave any generation without such saints. The world is a better place, because we have the saints.
Even centuries later, vocations to the priesthood or religious life are fostered by the examples of the radical discipleship of the saints, like Francis of Assisi or Dominic. In this way, we imitate and live like the saints because they followed and lived like Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
The saints inspire us to live the best kind of life we possibly can, even in the most difficult circumstances of daily life.
Perhaps we may realise just how human they were when we consider their “job descriptions” once they are canonised. Have you ever wondered how one becomes the patron saint of brewers? Well, even brewers and beer-drinkers ought to be holy!
To show that the saints are relevant for all times and for all people, I find this to be one of the most inspiring quotes about the saints, by St Augustine (one of the several patrons of brewers): “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.”
To this we can add a phrase attributed to a number of people: “A saint is a sinner who keeps trying.”
We live up to our saint-names, and indeed, like the saints, whenever we respond to the invitation to love God above all things and to love our neighbour because of God, who is always at work among us.