Who is a saint?
Literally, the word Saint means “holy” in the new testament. Christians are referred to as saints because they lived holy lives (like the early Christians of our local communities who were more devoted to the activities of holiness than the present generation of Christians).
The term saint originated from the Latin word Sanctus, meaning “holy” or “consecrated”. This is in turn, a direct translation of the Greek word (hagios), which also means “holy.” In its original scriptural usage, it means “holy” or “sanctified.” In this form, it can be applied to a “holy” person.
When we talk about saints in the Catholic church, we are referring to those as stated in the book of Revelation 7:14 – “Who have come out of great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb“. The saints are our beloved brothers and sisters who have gone before us and marked with the sign of faith – they underwent the trials of this world without losing their faith; focusing on the world to come. They lived in this world but never of the world. As it were, they fought the good fight of faith, finished the race and kept the faith (2 Thimoty 4:7)
Through baptism, we became members of God’s family in the church. Death does not intersect us from Christ. 1Thessalonian 5:10 – “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him“. In the apostle’s creed, we profess “I believe in one God…. The communion of the saints”, which refers to the union of Christians both living and the dead. Just as our life does not end with death, so too does our relationship without fellow members of the body of Christ continue even after their death. This is because the church is one with three dimensions: the Church militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant.
The Church Militant: This includes those of us who are passersby here in the world heading towards heaven, our final home. We wrestle with principalities and devils as we struggle to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We fight to overcome to reach our goal, which is the heavenly kingdom after our earthly battle. This makes us the church militant.
The Suffering Church: This has to do with all departed souls in purgatory. We remember and pray for them because they are one with us and needs our prayers since they cannot help themselves. They are like our brothers in the prison who cannot free themselves but only rely on the people outside the prison yard.
The Church Triumphant: These set comprises of those who have gone before us, have resurrected with Christ and are now enjoying the beatific vision – the saints. These saints do not need our prayers; instead they intercede for us as members of the same body of Christ, the church. Catholic prayers to the saints are in recognition of this communion.
It is therefore good to note that saints are our fellow Christians that lived in this world of ours, endured the same winter cold and summer heat with us but fought the good fight and emerged victorious. They lived an extraordinary, heroic and virtuous life and therefore became role models for us the church militants. Just like in our different fields of life, we have role models, so there should be no difficulty in people understanding the position of saints as role models in Christian religion especially to the Catholics.
Why Catholics Name Their Churches After Saints
Many Christians including some Catholics misunderstand our devotion to the saints. In our society we admire our heroes, remember their works, build monuments in their names, have their pictures and paintings in our buildings, create streets and name them after them, imitate their lives, rely on their words and regard them as our role models. Similarly, we admire the heroes of faith whose work inspired us to worship God accordingly and so imitate their exemplary Christian life and have them as our role models. This is why we take their names, have their pictures and paint our houses and churches, name church buildings, streets and places after them as well. Eventually, the Catholic church created a process, called “canonization” through which such venerable people could be recognized by all Christians everywhere.
Saints do not fall from heaven, rather they lived with us and we saw and recognize their holiness. Seeking the intercession of a saint does not mean that one cannot approach God directly in prayers. Rather, it is like asking a friend to pray for you to God while you also pray, except that in this case the friend is already in Heaven and can pray to God for you without ceasing, it communion of the saints in actual practice. Many non-Catholic Christians believe that it is wrong to pray to the saints, claiming that our prayers should be directly to God alone. But, it is never a distraction after all; scripture urges us to pray for one another. The role of Christ is that of a mediator while that of the saints is intercessory. Many of these saints serve as patrons and help to seek God’s favour for us.