If you were lucky enough to have believing Catholic parents, they probably gave you a spiritual patron in naming you after a saint. If not, perhaps in time you chose a saint who appealed to your soul in a special way or even found out that you had been chosen by some great saint of the faith who became a model or mentor for you on your spiritual journey. That happens!
Those of us who try to live a vital spiritual life are usually saint-oriented, not in a way that distracts from love of Christ, but in a healthy way that inspires us and leads us to Christ. To reprise our constant theme: saints are sacred windows that give us a glimpse into the life of the Trinity, and we are so blessed to be in this company which the Book of Hebrews calls “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).
Cloud Not Platform
Here’s a fascinating truth for saint-watchers: saints are our friends and companions but not our personal valets. They are not ours, they are Christ’s (He lends them to us!). Neither are they spiritual entrepreneurs like the celebrities who promote themselves all over social media these days. If I may indulge in a few modern metaphors, saints have been uploaded to the cloud (of witnesses), but they don’t manage their own personal platforms. In other words, they are too selfless to have Instagram accounts.
Certainly there have been amazingly talented, holy, dynamic individuals who reached the heights of sanctity, but not one of them got there on their own merits or talents alone. None of them could have achieved sanctity without a connection to the larger body of believers we call the Church. Another term for that community is the “communion of saints”, which is a description of the timeless connection between the glorified saints in heaven, the souls being purified in purgatory, and the rest of us believers fighting the good fight here on earth. As they say, we’re all in this together.
A Group Activity
That’s also why, in the history of the Church, saints are so often found in pairs, groups, and teams. This communion of saints begins in the here and now with the Church on earth. Saintly people (some of whom eventually get canonized) are always working with others to bring society out of darkness and into the light of Christ.
Even the great St. Anthony (250-350 AD – yes, he was over 100 when he died), who renounced everything and went off by himself to the desert to pray for his soul, inadvertently ended up with a band of devoted followers. They were all attracted to his sanctity like moths to a flame. That’s the way holiness works, like a magnet, not a megaphone.
As an exercise in saint-gazing, I’d like to point out some of the amazing saint pairs, teams, and tight-knit holy families we find throughout history. The groupings listed below essentially consist of natural or strictly spiritual relationships, without counting the larger organized groups we call religious orders throughout the history of the Church (with one exception as we will see). Religious orders may be the best (earthly) models of the communion of saints we have, but there are too many examples of them to list here!
Furthermore, the list of saints includes only canonized or beatified saints because they are the most notable. Needless to say, even among the canonized, our list could be much, much longer, not to mention the countless non-canonized saints of the Church. So, check out these amazing assemblies of saints. They are like the icing on the Church’s cake of sanctity throughout history.
Sibling Saints or Families
The Cappadocians (4th century) – I wrote about this extraordinary family in a previous newsletter. This family from Northern Turkey counts no fewer than eight saints (martyrs and canonized saints) spanning three generations!
Sts. Monica and Augustine (4th – 5th centuries) – mother and son; their story is fully and beautifully detailed in St. Augustine’s classic autobiography, Confessions.
Sts. Benedict and Scholastica (5th – 6th centuries) – brother and sister; they escaped the corruption of the world after the Fall of Rome and ended up establishing the male and female branches of the religious order we know as the Benedictines.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius (9th century) – the two Greek brothers who evangelized the Slavic peoples and are known to history as the “Apostles to the Slavs”.
The Martin Family (19th – 20th centuries) – St. Therese of Lisieux’s family; her parents (Zelie and Louis Martin) were canonized in 2015, and one of her sisters (Léonie), was declared Venerable in the same year.
The Fatima Children (20th century) – brother and sister, Francisco and Jacinta Martos, were canonized in 2017, and the cause for the canonization of their cousin, Sr. Lucia, was opened in 2008.
Sts. Perpetua and Felicity (early 3rd century) – the two friends were martyred in North African persecution in 203 AD. While they were from different social classes, they are both famous for being young mothers who chose to renounce life and family rather than to renounce Christ.
Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus (mid-3rd century) – pope and bishop, this unlikely pair were not initially friends but rivals (Hippolytus was actually an anti-pope!); they reconciled and became friends while they were in exile in the salt mines of Sardinia where both were martyred.
Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen (4th century) – the patron saints of friends were called “two streams of one river”; Basil is one of the Cappadocians and Gregory had two other siblings who are canonized saints in the Eastern Church.
Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher (16th century) – these two men were the first victims of the homicidal Henry VIII when they refused to accept his illegitimate re-marriage or his plan to declare himself Head of the Church.