Pope Benedict XVI opened the Synod almost three weeks ago by adding St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. John of Avila to the elite list of Church “doctors” – saints are special teachers of holiness and of theology and spirituality.
This past Sunday, which was World Mission Sunday, I was blessed to concelebrate a Mass in which the Pope proclaimed seven new saints who have a special meaning for the Year of Faith and the new evangelization.
Among these new saints are two Americans – St. Kateri Tekakwitha, our first Native American saint, and St. Marianne Cope, a German immigrant who became a minister of God’s mercy to the lepers in Hawaii.
We rejoice at our Holy Father’s beautiful gift to our Church in America. St. Kateri and St. Marianne remind us that our Church is still a Church of saints!
These new saints are also a sign of our own vocation to holiness – to be saints.
This is something I find myself praying about and reflecting on a lot during this Synod – our vocation to be saints. Our Catholic faith is so important! All of us need to feel a new enthusiasm for practicing our faith – no matter who we are or what our position is in the Church or in society. We need to rediscover how beautiful it is to know Jesus Christ!
We must make this Year of Faith a year for saints!
The Year of Faith is meant to draw us deeper into the vision of the Second Vatican Council, which began 50 years ago this month. What Vatican II taught above all else was the universal call to holiness.
In their Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (“Light of the Nations”), the Council Fathers wrote:
“Everyone in the Church … is called to holiness. … The Lord Jesus, the divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of his disciples of every condition. … They must follow in his footsteps and conform themselves to his image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor.”
This is the beauty of the gift of faith. By this gift, God gives us the power to live as his children and to be partakers of his divine nature. He gives us the grace to seek his holiness and perfection.
The gift of faith is the call to be saints. And that must be the focus of our efforts in this Year of Faith – to renew our desire to be saints.
Sometimes when we talk about saints, people think that it is not for them. But that’s not true! Ordinary, normal people are called to be saints. Weak and sinful people who make mistakes but are willing to ask for forgiveness and begin again!
Pope Benedict said of our new saint: “Leading a simple life, Kateri remained faithful to her love for Jesus, to prayer and to daily Mass. Her greatest wish was to know and to do what pleased God. She lived a life radiant with faith and purity.”
Each of us is called to live this same simple life of faith. And God wants to give us the grace we need to be saints.
Our world won’t be converted by words and programs. Only by saints. Pope Benedict said this in opening the Synod: “The saints are the true actors in evangelization … Holiness … its language, that of love and truth, is understandable to all people of good will and it draws them to Jesus Christ, the inexhaustible source of new life.”
So in this Year of Faith, let’s make a special effort to pray with and learn from the saints. We can start with our two new “doctors” – St. Hildegard and St. John of Avila – who have a special importance for the new evangelization.
We should also make a special effort to learn from our newest American saints – St. Kateri and St. Marianne – and from St. Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino martyr also canonized on Sunday by the Pope.
The Synod concluded this past Sunday, October 28, with a final Mass to celebrated by the Holy Father along with the nearly 300 bishops who have been privileged to share in this journey of faith with him.
So let’s keep one another in prayer this week. And may the example and the intercession of these new doctors and saints strengthen us in our vocation to holiness.
And let us continue in this Year of Faith to entrust ourselves to the Virgin Mary, the bright star of the new evangelization.
Most Rev. José H. Gomez is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, California.