Living the Communion of Saints
We say in the Apostles Creed "I believe in the Communion of the Saints...". What does that mean? Well, it means that, in and through Christ, we have a real relationship with "those who have gone before us marked with the sign of Faith," and are now with God in Heaven. It means that our relationship to them is every bit as "real" as it is to your fellow parishioners who share a pew with you every Sunday.
The Saints are not dead and gone, they are alive! They are alive to God in Heaven. And if they're alive to God, that means they're alive to us. And because they are with God in Heaven, they are in perfect communion with Him, whereas our communion with Him is still imperfect. Our sins and shortcomings place obstacles in the way of our relationship with God. But the Saints in Heaven know no such obstacles. So the Saints are able to pray in perfect accord with the will of God. That makes them perfect intercessors. I don't know about you, but I need all the intercession I can get, and having perfectly praying intercessors sounds like a good deal to me.
Furthermore, because each Saint uniquely and differently lived out the Lord's call to holiness and discipleship, they are each able to offer us a unique, different, but nonetheless equally valid and powerful witness and example of how we can live out our faith. If Saint Francis doesn't inspire you, maybe St. Ignatius Loyola will. If St. Catherine of Siena doesn't get you fired up, maybe St. Therese of Lisieux will.
Is the Communion of Saints a reality in our lives? Or is it an abstraction, something we assent to intellectually without really experiencing?
For me, I'll admit, it was more an abstraction than anything else, until I went to Rome and studied there in 1997. It was there that I really started to "get" the Communion of Saints in a big way. My first such experience was on my first visit to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus (San Callisto in Italian). While wandering through the galleries, I tried reading the many inscriptions that adorn the loculi (the "niches" in which the bodies were placed), putting my grad school training in Latin and epigraphy to use. I encountered a loculus that had an almost intact inscription on it: Tertia ****[illegible] *hristi XV an vix, and a little palm branch - the sign of martyrdom! The inscription means "Tertia, [illegible] of Christ, 15 years old". I was riveted to the spot (which annoyed our tour guide to some extent). Here was the tomb of an unknown, unheralded girl who died a martyr! All of a sudden, it was as if I could feel the presence of her, and all of the other believers who lie there, awaiting the resurrection. And it was a good feeling. I could almost sense their presence and intercession for me, and for the whole Church. All of a sudden, my prayers to various saints took on a new significance and immediacy for me, which is still with me today.
I had a couple of even more powerful experiences of the Saints while in Rome, and have had a couple at other shrines. And those will be the subject of a presentation I'm working on.
It's because of this experience, and my conviction about the Saints, that I'm so fired up about the Pilgrimage to France that I'll be leading in September with Mark Shea. Mark and I both have pretty strong convictions about our friends in heaven, and I want you, hopefully, to come to share some similar experiences to those I've been blessed with.
On the Pilgrimage, I'll be giving a talk about my experiences of the Saints, titled "The Communion of the Saints: A Living Reality", in which I'll go into greater depth about my experiences of the Saints in Rome and elsewhere. Since this pilgrimage is focused so much on Marian Shrines, I'll pay special attention to how Mary is very much a real and present person in our lives today. I know Mark is planning on giving his presentation "An Evangelical Discovers Mary" on the pilgrimage, and I'm trying to talk him into working up a new one as well, exclusively for the pilgrimage.
Please come and enjoy France with Mark and myself, and deepen your Faith by visiting the Shrines where Our Lady appeared, and where so many great Saints have a lingering presence yet.
The Pilgrimage is from September 21-29, 2004. Reservations need to be made by July 15 (so hurry and sign up!). For more information on the Pilgrimage, go here or here. You can also e-mail our Tour Director, Mark Windsor, at yawper1 [at] comcast.net.