By Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
I arise today / Through the strength of the love of cherubim, / In the obedience of angels, / In the service of archangels, / In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward, / In the prayers of patriarchs, / In the preaching of the apostles, / In the faith of confessors, / In the innocence of virgins, / In the deeds of righteous men. (Prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate, ca. 377 AD.)
The Church long ago created a list that it uses to define the “categories” of sanctity to explain the diversity of saints in the life of the Church. St. Patrick’s list above expresses some of it. It starts with the holy angels, of course, and goes through the Old Testament “saints” such as Patriarchs and Prophets, then proceeds to the canonized saints of the church such as Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins, and Holy Men and Women. (Each of these categories will be explained in separate articles to follow.) The list of categories is very helpful, when you think about it, because it inspires us to “find our niche” in the overall gallery of Christian virtue throughout the centuries. It is kind of like a Catholic Hall of Fame, and all our greatest heroes will be found somewhere on that short list. More importantly, if we take our spiritual life at all seriously, we ourselves should seek to be on that list! These are the models that God puts in the world for our inspiration.
New Testament writers often use the image of “crown” to describe the beauty of sanctity. Paul says that the people of Philippi are his “joy and crown” (Phil 2:12) and urges us to fight for the “imperishable crown” (1 Cor 9:27) that awaits us in heaven. Peter speaks of a “crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:4) and James a “crown of life” (Jam 1:12) that will belong to the saints. This list can be multiplied with many other references, but you get the picture. In a human sense, crowns are the most wonderful ornaments that we can create to signal the status of a person; those who wear them are always very important or very special people. How much more important are the saints.
If there is one healthy habit I have had since I was a kid, it is what I would call for lack of a better term, “saint-watching.” Undoubtedly, my propensity to hone in on saints of every type has given me a rather continuous enthusiasm for my faith all these years and is something that has always caused me to strive for a greater holiness myself, as far away from that as I may be. I also discovered along the way that saints and their teachings, their examples, their virtue, in a very direct way helped to “shape” my life as a priest and literally molded me into what God wanted me to be. I can honestly say that I consider these astonishing examples of goodness, both in heaven and on earth, as friends who have walked with me on my journey and left their deep imprint of love on my soul.
To put an image on it, I liken the saints to the different colors and fragmentary bits of glass in a marvelous stained glass window viewed from inside a dark cathedral. Each expression of living holiness is a brilliant dash of color in the total mosaic, blending into the gorgeous luminosity of the whole work of art, and helps to form the fuller image that the window shows to the world. Without a doubt, all the saints would say that their own unique piece of glass, no matter how colorful, would be nothing at all without the Illumination that shines from the outside to light up the window, and that is true in an absolute sense, but let’s also recognize that each saint’s life and example serves to magnify the One Light and Image of Christ in the world. In this sense, the saints are all radiant prisms through which Jesus, the “Crown of Saints” allows His grace to flow.
Now, imagine this: Jesus Christ does not just wear the most beautiful crown of all the saints: rather, He is the Crown that all the saints wear, in the same way that we would call something “the crowning glory” of an effort. He is the highest holiness of angels, the utmost confessor of faith, the most glorious spouse of virgins, the supreme king of martyrs, and the absolute font of all the sanctity exhibited by every holy man, woman, or child that ever lived. In Christ we find an inexhaustible wellspring of holiness as its source and the ultimate expression of holiness as its seal.
Now, do you think that Christ, the “Crown of Saints” would deny holiness to you if you asked? Inspired by Him and the illustrious examples of all the saints, let us seek holiness with all our might, and be assured that it will be granted in abundance to any who really want it.
Heavenly Lord and crowning glory of all saints, graciously set upon our heads the crown of holiness that is reserved for those who love God will all their hearts, souls, mind, and strength. Teach us to heroically serve our neighbors in our state in life so that we may draw many souls to heaven through the example of holy lives. We ask this in Your most holy Name. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]