By Mary Morrell |Managing Editor

What’s all the fuss about saints? We name our children, our churches, schools and hospitals after them. They are patrons of nations, cities, organizations and families Prayers are written for them, and by them, and a variety of cultural customs and traditions have grown up around them.

Most importantly, they have made it into our creed: “I believe in the communion of saints….”

Saints have been called the heroes of our Catholic faith, and certainly, as with all heroes, there is a tendency to exaggerate their life stories, and their feats of renown. But if you strip away the literary license, what remains is the story of men and women, and often children, whose lives were uniquely focused on the call of God to be holy.

No easy matter, we think.

In her book, “Saint Watching,” author Phyllis McGinley shares an experience familiar to many of us.

“When I was seven years old I wanted to be a tight-rope dancer and broke my collar bone practicing on a child’s-size high wire. At 12 I planned to become an international spy. At 12 my ambition was the stage. Now in my sensible or declining years I would give anything (except my comforts, my customs and my sins) to be a saint.”

That’s something to which many people can relate.

She goes on, “Of course there’s a dif­ference between this current daydream and my long-ago aspirations. I recognize it now for what it is, a mere sigh of the soul, the immemorial fantasy of middle age. I possess no more talent for conspicuous virtue than I ever had for aerial ballet. I have no head for heights. Still, the fancy not only pleases me but has given me an occupation. I know that I am a hero-worshiper; and saints have become the heroes I choose to stare at for the sheer excitement of their achievements as well as for their charms, crotchets, and eccentricities.”

This is something contrary to Catholic faith.

Saints are not heroes to be worshipped, and the prospect of sainthood is not just a flight of fancy for any of us. We are all part of the communion of saints – whether we are headed for the top of the class or still interns learning the ropes. Rather than heroes to be worshipped, saints serve us as models of faith. Studying the lives of the saints gives us the opportunity to learn from those who got it right, more times than they got it wrong.

Getting to know the saints is as important for youth as it is for adults, perhaps more so in the formative years. For Catholics, choosing a saint name for Confirmation is an important part of the sacramental formation process.

In the Orthodox tradition, there is a tradition of celebrating namedays – the feast of a patron saint – in place of celebrating birthdays.

On this day, families go to church for any special service celebrating their saint, and return home for a party with family and friends – a tradition any Catholic family could adopt. For those named after Mary, the Theotokos, Mother of God or “God-bearer,” there is special meaning in being named after the greatest Christian saint.

With Mary as our model, we learn that holiness is attained by saying yes to God, and then having faith in God to bring his plans to fruition. Our prayers to Mary, as they are to other saints, are for guidance or intercession. Often, in our culture, there is confusion, and sometimes, consternation, about the Catholic practice of praying to Mary and the saints, for Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is the one and only mediator and Savior.

The catechism explains that “this does not deny the possibility that Christ would permit others to share in his mediating role. Here on earth we routinely ask others for prayers. Instinctively, we turn to holy people for their prayers because they seem nearer to God. Why would we stop asking saints for their prayers after they die? If we believe they are in heaven, would not their prayers be even more effective?” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults).

As we mature in faith, we, hopefully, will no longer see saints in a category of their own, set apart from the rest of us who have little or no chance of being in their company. With a deeper understanding of what it means to be part of the communion of saints, we can face death relatively certain that we will join departed family and friends, and have the opportunity to meet the celebrity saints that we know and love.

That certainty has a lot to do with the next line of the creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

Mary Morrell, long time master catechist of adults and children, is a course facilitator for the University of Dayton’s Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation.