You might not know very much about your family tree, but you should. It’s incredible. Your family has a long legacy. Your family has made a huge impact on the world. In fact, your family has changed the world in almost every conceivable way. If it weren’t for your family, modern culture would look a whole lot different and far darker than it does.
Your Catholic family tree has born a lot of fruit, my brothers and sisters, and it’s fruit that has remained (Jn 15:16).
Do you set up a Nativity set at your house during Advent? That was St. Francis of Assisi’s idea first.
The Christmas tree? Many credit that tradition’s “roots” (or lack thereof) to St. Boniface. Incidentally, he also gets credited with inventing what we now call “bowling.” St. Nicholas gave us far more than stockings or a Christmas icon… as an early Bishop, it was his charity in the face of early Christian persecution that pointed pagan souls back to Christ.
Do you go to Catholic school? You can thank St. Elizabeth Ann Seton for those.
Perhaps you’re in college at a state school and go to a Newman center for Mass? You can thank Blessed Cardinal Newman. In fact, many would credit St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas for their roles in the creation of international universities, beginning back in Salamanca. If you end up in law school, you might want to give a shout out to St. Thomas More, whose own comprehension of the legal system and unwavering approach to truth later influenced the writings of John Locke.
Oh, and if you’re called to the discern the priesthood, you should be sure to give a shout out to St. Charles Borromeo, since he was so instrumental in creating the modern seminary system.
I’ll bet if you look around your local community, you’ll even find a local chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, specializing in outreach to the poor. His legacy of charity is alive and strong over 450 years after his death.
Some saints were so holy that they were honored far more after they died. St. Gregory the Great didn’t create Gregorian chant, but due to his legacy it was named after him… as was the Gregorian calendar. It’s reported that St. Therese of Lisieux had the academic equivalence of a sixth grader, but her holiness and practical insights into Christian love later earned her the esteemed title “Doctor of the Church” (a title that’s only been given to 33 saints).
St. Benedict created the modern monastic community, blessing and housing hundreds of thousands of holy men and women who have served the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola gave the Church and the world a new understanding and vision of the Church’s Missionary work. St. Dominic radically changed the concept of religious life among the laity. St. Augustine came up with a rule of life still followed by Diocesan priests.
A huge number of the capitals and major cities in our country were founded by Catholic religious orders. St. Louis, St. Paul, St. Petersburg all began as Mission Churches. Most of the major cities in California are named after saints, thanks to Blessed Junipero Serra. In fact, the full name of Los Angeles is actually El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (The Town of the Queen of the Angels). Los Angeles is named after Our Lady.
Blessed (Mother) Theresa of Calcutta began the Missionaries of Charity and changed the way the world looks at people and perceives human dignity. Soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II (John Paul the Great) gave us far more than the Theology of the Body or the New Evangelization. World Youth Days have become the largest gatherings in the history of the civilized world. Pope John Paul II’s works and words on existential phenomenology and his work to bring down the Communist regime in Eastern Europe will never be forgotten.
Oh, and last but far from least, you know that Bible of yours? The Catholic Church put that together into its final form. Catholic Church fathers prayerfully deliberated, debated, and discerned which books would “make the cut” (into what’s known as the canon). St. Jerome, too, played a critical role in the Bible’s translation into Latin, insuring its timelessness and universality (and let’s not forget that Catholic means “universal”).
What is even more enduring than the saints’ earthly legacies, however, is their legacy of love. They are saints not because of impressive resumes; they are saints because they held nothing back. They are saints because they served God and His people with their whole hearts. That is the legacy we should truly celebrate. Everything they did in God’s Name would be empty without their love for Him (1 Cor. 13:1-3), but because of their focus on the Lord, we can look back now with great pride in our family tree and say look at all the Lord achieved through a series of willing sinners… just like us.
It’s good to be Catholic.