Maybe you’re one of those people who roll your eyes at your friends who fawn over St. Therese.
Maybe you’re scoffing when, for the 500th time, you meet a girl (ahem, me) who chose St. Cecilia as her confirmation saint because she was in choir in middle school.
Maybe you’re sick of seeing hiking photos on your newsfeed captioned, “Verso L’alto” for #frassatifriday, or you’ve seen this picture of JPII one too many times and are over the hype.
If you found yourself nodding yes to any of the above situations, it might be time for you to become friends with a saint. I don’t mean just learning about a saint, but really forging a relationship with one. You can learn a lot about people by stalking their social media or asking their friends about them, but you can’t actually get to know someone until you spend time with him or her. The saints are no different — they’re not people to be observed from afar, but holy pals we can actually have a relationship with.
Saint Friends Meet Us Where We Are
The saints are real people with real stories, not unlike our own. For me, it was the ordinary things that I had in common with a great saint that attracted me to him, even though learning about the saints didn’t seem all that exciting to me at the time.
As a child I loved reading, so I was introduced to St. John Paul II through a children’s book on his childhood. In middle school I loved studying World War II, so I got to know him a bit more through an exhibit about him and the Holocaust. In high school I loved theatre, so JPII came to me through his own love for theatre and playwriting.
As examples of the love of our Relentless Father, the saints participate in His pursuit of souls by coming to meet us right where we are!
Saint Friends Help us Grow
In his Rule, St. Benedict wrote, “May the strong have something to strive for and the weak have nothing to run from.” The saints can relate to us at our weakest and push us higher at our strongest. Struggling to overcome the same old sins? Saint Augustine and St. Mark Ji Tianxiang have been there, too. Ready for greatness? Saint Maximilian Kolbe and St. Ignatius of Loyola will give you something to fight for. Want to glorify God with your humor? Blessed Miguel Pro is your guy. Having a hard time forgiving someone who hurt you — really, really hurt you? Saint Maria Goretti gets it.
My relationship with JPII has grown and changed throughout my life. He entered my life simply as a friend with shared interests. As I grew in my passion for mission and evangelization, I came to see him as my guide in the New Evangelization. I began to feel that he knew me better than I knew myself when I learned of his deep understanding of the feminine heart. Most importantly, his devotion to the Blessed Mother inspired me when I wasn’t totally on board with the Mary thing. But I saw how JPII’s devotion to Mary helped him receive God’s grace to grow in holiness and trusted him so much that I was inspired to learn why we believe what we believe and to forge a relationship with Mary myself!
Saint Friends Challenge Us
The saints will challenge you. They’re not challenging in the sense that I don’t measure up; they’re challenging because, with God’s grace, I can become holy, too. Recently, JPII has been challenging me in virtue through his work, “Love and Responsibility.”
A few months ago, I was seeking guidance in the dating world and although I wasn’t doing anything bad, I still felt like I was walking on eggshells trying not to do the wrong thing. As a single woman, I found it really challenging to love the guys in my life instead of using them for attention and affection. I needed clarity in discernment, and I also needed to learn how to listen to my emotions without making them the goal of a romantic relationship.
Reading “Love and Responsibility,” I felt like JPII knew exactly what I was feeling. As I read and reflected, I sometimes felt called out by him, but not in a way that made me feel like something was wrong with me. Instead, he affirmed everything I was feeling and told me I didn’t need to feel guilty for my feelings because they are a gift from God. JPII seemed to sympathize with what I was experiencing and wanted to show me a way of life that was so much more free and authentic than the cycle of toeing the line, feeling guilty, and despairing that my heart could ever change. And through journeying with JPII, God gave me the grace to not just see His will, but actually make concrete choices to dive into this way of freedom. It became so much more than loving my guy friends well — that was just the tip of the iceberg. It was about seeking first the only one who could satisfy the longings of my heart.
Saint Friends Show Us Our Destiny
Any time I acknowledge my flaws and weaknesses, I have a tendency to hyperfocus on them and be really hard on myself. I’ll use my failure as an excuse to avoid God, internalizing the belief that God doesn’t want to talk to me until I measure up to a self-imposed standard. But when I’m hanging my head and looking down at all my mistakes, it’s hard to see what’s right above me. JPII reminded me that God is so much bigger than my mess. Instead of spending all of my energy getting down on myself, he encouraged me to pursue virtue. When I became overly focused on what I might accidentally do wrong, he refocused my sights on seeking God’s face. He showed me that the goal isn’t guilt, the goal is God. I was never going to find happiness just by avoiding the wrong things; it was sprinting toward the ultimate Good that would lead to true happiness. I was created to be one with God, and that is what my heart ultimately desires.
The saints can seem really intimidating. Just look at JPII: he wrote the equivalent of 20 Bibles in length, was late for everything because he wanted to personally encounter everyone who crossed his path, had a sixth sense for sniffing out adoration chapels, and forgave his would-be assassin! But while these actions indicate his holiness, JPII showed me that they aren’t the main goal. The main goal is loving God wholeheartedly and becoming like Him. I will never be JPII, but I’m not supposed to be. As I once read, God made His creatures unique in His image because there are infinite ways to express His perfection. The saints show us our destiny: to become like Christ, yet uniquely ourselves.
Tips for Finding and Knowing Your Saint Friend(s)
- Find a saint who intrigues you. Is there a saint who sparks your curiosity or makes you uncomfortable? How about a patron saint of something you love? A saint with a goofy name or similar struggles as you? A saint you’re resisting getting to know, or a saint you just don’t “get”? Let these questions drive you deeper into who they are. They are perfect “conversation starters” for befriending the saints!
- Don’t just collect saint names. It’s better to deeply know and love one or two saints than to superficially “know of” dozens. Pick the one or two saints who intrigue or inspire you and get to know them.
- Invest. Start by reading their story online and intentionally invoking their intercession in prayer with a simple, “St.___, pray for us.” Go deeper by picking up a biography or, better yet, something they wrote. Try praying a novena for their intercession. Let their spirituality and service inspire you in your own life, perhaps by making an offering to merciful love like St. Therese , incorporating silence into your life like St. Joseph, using media for evangelization like St. Maximilian Kolbe, or striving to feel with the Church and lift up the poor in your community like St. Oscar Romero.
- Read about their early life. Often times, seeing the saints when they were young is all it takes to collapse the distance between us because we see that, in many ways, we aren’t that different. This can also give us insights into how to follow Christ as young people.
- Seek out their advice. This is a great way to invite a saint into your life more intimately and vulnerably. As you pray for their intercession, you can look to their life for insight into your own and often to their writings to see what they really would have said in a given situation.
- The saints are already pursuing you. They’re humble and don’t draw attention to themselves, but if you pay attention, you will begin to notice the saints are walking with you already!
Having a saint to rely on throughout your journey can make a huge difference in your pursuit of holiness. Reach out to someone who inspires you today and make a new, spiritual BFF!