ALMOST every home in the United States has a picture of George Washington. And why? It reminds them of the man. Could they not recall the man without this reminder? They could. Would they? Perhaps some would occasionally. Many, very many, would not at all or but very seldom. When we look upon the picture of Washington we think of himself. His life reminds us of the struggles our infant country made for its existence. It tells us of the sacrifices he made for his native land and ours, and it makes us value patriotism.
We venerate Washington because he was faithful to the duties assigned him by Congress, because he was upright in his dealings with his countrymen, and because he labored so much and sacrificed so much for the nation's life. There may have been thousands of men just as patriotic as he, but of his patriotism there was open and manifest evidence. He was distinguished in the service of his country, and in consequence is now distinguished in the honor paid him by a grateful people and confirmed by an appreciative government.
We honor him by statues, by pictures, by a special day dedicated to his memory, by orations, by organizations named after him, and by cities and states that glory in being called by his name. The government encourages all this, and sets us the example by naming the capital of the country after the Father of His Country.
And why all this? Because men understand that patriotism is nourished on noble deeds and by noble examples. Moreover, the government would show that she knows how to reward those who live for her.
There is a kingdom among men called by God Himself the Kingdom of God. It has its heroes like other realms. It has its subjects like other governments. It has its service and its struggles like other kingdoms. Men and women have distinguished themselves in its service, they have given an example of devotion to its cause, and they have laid down their lives that it might carry on its service of devotion to mankind.
Should it not honor them? If we venerate Washington, should we not venerate Paul and Augustine and Bernard and Francis and Dominic and Gregory and Ignatius and Xavier? These were heroes of the cross. Is not the cross worthy to stand alongside the eagle or the Stars and Stripes? The saints are the heroes of Christianity, the oldest and most extensive kingdom in the world.
The kingdoms of this earth honor their noble sons in the best way they are capable of. Every mark of honor they can bestow on those whom they wish to honor is gladly conferrred on them. And the Church of God does likewise. Her power of honoring goes farther than that of the rulers of this world, and so does the honor she bestows go beyond what man can bestow.
All very well, I hear a non-Catholic rejoin, but why should the saints, who are after all but mortals, receive honor which belongs to divinity? Why should we pray to the saints, and ask them to grant us favors, when that is God's province? The Catholic cult, you contend, puts the creature in the place of the Creator. It is paying honor to a servant which belongs to the Master.
My dear man, whoever you be that think thus, I should agree with you if what you say were Catholic belief. If the Catholic veneration of the saints is what you declare it to be, we Catholics would be the first to reject it. If the veneration of the saints were not also the veneration of God, we should proclaim it idolatry. But does the honor we pay to Washington or Lincoln detract from the honor we owe our country?
Rather, does not our veneration of those distinguished sons of the Republic show our vener- ation for the Republic itself? Can you Imagine a man dishonoring the name or statue of Washington without also dishonoring the country he served so well?
On the contrary, can we not measure the patriotism of our people by the esteem in which they hold their notable patriots? In our schools we inculcate the study of their lives. In our cities we decorate their monuments. In our armies we salute their standards. And who would dare say that in thus honoring our heroes we are dishonoring our mother country!
The saints are the heroes of God. They won their crown by living for Him, laboring for Him, dying for Him. He welcomed them after life's warfare by bestowing on them the crown of immortality and adopting them into the divine family. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he hath been proved he shall receive the crown of life" (James i, 12). "They are equal to the angels and are the children of God" (Luke xx, 36).
Does a father of a family gain or lose honor by the honor and esteem paid his children? Do you know of any greater pleasure you can give a father or mother than to praise their children? The saints are the children of God. Not as we on earth who are on probation. They have stood the test of divinity and have been approved. They are the gold tried in the fire and found to be pure gold, fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is said that the eagle before it acknowledges its young as genuine holds them with their eyes looking full at the sun, and if they cannot gaze on it, drops them to destruction. The saints have looked upon the Sun of Justice during life and guided their steps by Him and molded their lives by His pattern, and now they are the children of God. As the Apostle puts it, they are "sharers of the divine nature." In honoring them, we are honoring those whom God has honored. He sets us the example. Moreover, in honoring the saints, we are honoring
God indirectly, for it is His gifts in them that we honor. All they are and have they received from Him. Their sanctification is the fruit of His grace. Now would you feel that you were detracting from an artist by praising and honoring his work? Just the reverse. If you want to pay the highest compliment to an architect, enthuse over the building he has erected. If you want to honor an author, inform bin: that you place his book on the most honored shelf in your library. If you wish to honor God, venerate His workmanship, the living temples of triumphant grace, the saints.
However, I hear you remark, there is another side which you ignore altogether. There certainly can be no objections to the veneration of the saints as you describe it, but you Catholics put the saints in God's place. You go to them instead of to God; you ask them favors as though they and not God were the bestowers of gifts.
I grant that if you judge some Catholics by their way of speaking, you are right in making this statement. For they say: "I am going to ask St. Anthony for this favor, or St. Joseph for that." But this is only a way of expressing themselves. What they have in mind is that they are going to ask the intercession of St. Anthony or St. Joseph. You do the same daily. If you want a favor from a railroad or an express company, or from a bank, you say: "I am going to ask so-and-so for it." But so-and-so is only an official, a servant, a secretary. He has no power except what he receives from higher up. What favor he does, whatever he dispenses, is only what the railroad or express company or bank authorizes him to do.
And when you seek this favor, you know it is not something of his own the man is giving you, but only his good will in the matter. Ah, but that is just it. Why should we require anybody's good will where God is concerned? We do not. We can go direct to God if we wish. There is nothing to prevent it. But most people find it easier to approach majesty through the friends of majesty. If you have offended a great personage, you certainly feel more comfortable approaching him to ask pardon or get a favor if you are accompanied by his mother or close friend-Moreover, suppose that God, in order to honor His saints, tells us to go to them. If you want a favor from the President of the United States and he tells you to see Senator So-and-so, by whom he distributes that patronage, you cannot say that by going to that Senator you are overlooking or underestimating the Chief Executive.
Now God has distinctly commanded us to go to the saints for favors and for help. "My wrath is kindled against thee and thy two friends; go to my servant Job, and he shall pray for you, his face I will accept. So they did as the Lord had spoken to them, and the Lord accepted the face of Job" (Jobxlii, 8).
If God heard the prayers of His saints on earth, how much more will He barken to those offered Him by the saints above ! "When thou didst pray with tears I offered thy prayer to the Lord" (Tob. xii, 12). Thus Raphael addressed Tobias. "Pray for one another, for the continual prayer of a just man availeth much" (James v, 16).
The saints are the just who have entered into their glory. In order to encourage us here below by holding up for our imitation men like ourselves who have fought the good fight and won, God is pleased to have us helped by them. By going to them we recall that they were once as we now are, and the very act of praying to them for aid is a stimulus to our imitation of them. God knows our frame. He made us. He gave us the saints for help because He wanted to give us the best help. He considers them a channel for His graces. For that is all they are after all, as regards their veneration,—a way to Him. He as truly gives by them as if He gave directly Himself.
For when it comes to prayer, why should we pray at all, for that matter? Does not God know what we need? Why then pray to Him, why inform Him of what He knows? It is because prayer shows our dependence upon Him, that what He gives us is not our due but His bounty, and it reminds us of Him and our duty. And so in His dispensations in regard to the saints. He could hear and grant us without them, and He often does, but He wants us to go to them in order that we may be thereby helped and the saints honored.
The Our Father is a prayer direct to God Himself, and we are bidden to say it daily. In directing her children to seek the intercession of the saints, the Church does not at all suggest that we should neglect God or show lack of confidence in Him. Experience shows that the Church which fosters the intercession of the saints Is the only one in which prayer to God Himself is paramount.
It is safe to say that there is no religion in the world in which there is so much prayer to God as in the Catholic faith. Praying to the saints reminds us of God, that is why. The saints reign with Christ. "To him that shall overcome, I shall give to sit with me on my throne" (Apoc. iii, 21). And what does reigning with Christ mean ? Just what the intercession of the saints implies. With Christ, as His friends, they are powerful. They never so truly reign as when they help us. Their one desire is to glorify their Lord by aiding us to be with Him one day. In dispensing God's favors they are exercising their function of reigning with Him. When we go to them we give them the opportunity of exercising their power. In that they are honored, by that we are helped. That is the practice of the communion of saints, the ninth article of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints."
We know from history that in rejecting the saints, it was but a short step to the rejection of Christ. Catholics think too much of Christ to belittle His friends. The saints are the friends, tried and true, of Jesus Christ. In honoring them in the way He wants us to we are honoring Himself.
The more we honor the saints, the surer are we of eventually being with them in the home of Our Father in heaven.