Growing up in a non-denominational Christian home, I was told many things about Catholicism. Few were true. Regarding the Saints, I was only told “Catholics idolize them and talk to the dead, which is a sin.” I never questioned this until my junior year in college when I lost my beloved Uncle Luis.
You see, he had been very sick and asked to see me, but I was terrified of seeing this man – whom I’d loved and played with as a girl – wasting away. So I didn’t go. This was the most deeply painful part of his death. I wanted so desperately to tell him how I loved him and that I was sorry for my selfishness during his final days. But I was forbidden to speak to him; he had passed on and now we were separated. Six months after he died, the Holy Spirit led me to the RCIA class at a local Catholic church.
During the course of my conversion, I began to contemplate the Saints. At first I was uncomfortable and afraid that I was sinning, and that Catholics were wrong to revere these dead men and women as though they were super heroes. Then I started reading about them. I read about St. Maximillian Kolbe, who sacrificed his very life for the love of his fellow man. I learned of St. Augustine who, after committing just about every sin in the book, was radically changed by and for God. I became fascinated by the Church’s documentation of miracles attributed to these holy people’s prayers. I finally began to understand that if we, as Christians, believe that Christ’s resurrection is Death’s undoing, then we are all one spiritual body regardless of our physical body’s state. We are united always, and let’s face it: we need one another so badly.
When I accepted this and learned that we pray with Saints and not to them, I experienced a deep feeling of relief and began to pray for my Uncle. I was able to tell him all that I wanted to say, and to ask him to pray for God to help me forgive myself and let go of the guilt I felt over my refusing to visit him. One year after his death I got an answer, and was it ever an answer.
One night during adoration I was overcome by a sense of peace, and when I closed my eyes I heard -very clearly – my uncle’s hearty laughter (the thing I missed most) and I saw him, healed and whole, walking alongside a body of light I knew to be Jesus. He was free and so was I.
In the last three years I have lost three more family members. The loss is never easy, but it’s not absolute either. Had I not come to this beautiful Faith and to a love for the Saints, I would still be grief’s prisoner. Thanks to the Church’s teachings on the communion of saints I’ve learned that death isn’t always about saying “Goodbye,” but about learning to say “Pray for me.”