Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Saints: Our Traveling Companions

This upcoming Sunday’s Gospel is about the Kingdom of God (11th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mark 4:26-34). I have often said that the Kingdom of God is the Rule of God and "God is love." (1 John 4:8); thus, the Kingdom of God is about the rule of God’s love.

We also pray in the "Our Father": "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." If we were suddenly given a vision of heaven, we would see the Risen and Ascended Jesus, the Son Of God, with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, surrounded by the angels and saints, with Mary the Mother of Christ. As the Catechism teaches us:

"This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness."  (Catechism#1024)

The saints in heaven enjoy the fullness of God’s love and each loves one another with the fullness of divine love. This is that love, that rule of God’s love, that we pray will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Growing up as a Protestant, the subject of the saints was almost entirely absent from my mind. Of course I was taught about the men and women of God in the Bible who are also saints, but that title of "Saint" was not used in my childhood religious education.

Perhaps the first Catholic saint that I came to know about was St. Francis of Assisi. I was a student at UF. Somehow I came across a small book called The Little Flowers of St. Francis, written in the late 14th century.

I was totally charmed by these stories about St. Francis and his companions. Little would I know at the time that I would become a Catholic, be ordained a priest, and one day visit Assisi and many other haunts of St. Francis in Italy. I would also become the Pastor of a parish, our parish of Holy Faith, whose name comes from a Franciscan mission in Spanish Florida near present-day Gainesville. (See Parish History)

On my Catholic journey begun so many years ago, I took as my Patron Saint, St. John the Evangelist also associated with the Beloved Disciple in John’s Gospel (See John 13:23). Everyday I ask for St. John’s prayers and that I might become a beloved disciple of the Lord.

I, of course, came to also know and love Mary the Mother of God. At my ordination, whoever prepared the written program thought that my middle initial "M" stood for Michael. It actually stands for Morris, a family name of one of my great grandfathers. So I got named as John Michael Phillips and I decided I had been also given St. Michael the Archangel as an additional Guardian angel. I also came to love St. Benedict; I was taught in my first year of Seminary by the Benedictine monks of St. Meinrad, Indiana and did my further studies after ordination at St. John’s University and Benedictine Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

I could mention other saints, as well, that I have read, come to admire, and think of with devotion. Pope Benedict XVI has instructed us about having the saints as intimate friends:

"There are very dear people in the life of each one of us to whom we feel particularly close, some of whom are already in God's embrace, while others still share with us the journey through life: they are our parents, relatives and teachers; they are the people to whom we have done good or from whom we have received good; they are people on whom we know we can count.

"Yet, it is important also to have ‘traveling companions’ on the journey of our Christian life....I am also thinking of the Virgin Mary and the Saints. Everyone must have some Saint with whom he or she is on familiar terms, to feel close to with prayer and intercession but also to emulate. I would therefore like to ask you to become better acquainted with the Saints, starting with those you are called [named] after, by reading their life and their writings. You may rest assured that they will become good guides in order to love the Lord even more and will contribute effective help for your human and Christian development." (Pope Benedict, General Audience 8/25/10)
[For more on "traveling companions" on the Catholic Spiritual Journey read my reflections here]

As Catholics, along with the Orthodox Church, we have a glorious gift and heritage in the many saints we honor. They will pray for us and guide us with safe passage into the Kingdom of God, into the experience of his love!