Catholic

How and why Catholics are devoted to the saints.

Catholicism is unique for a myriad of reasons, but one of my favorites is our devotion to the saints.

I know that’s sometimes a misunderstood quality of my faith, and that breaks my heart. The most common misconceptions, in addition to being inaccurate, truly miss the point at the heart of this devotion.

Saintly devotion, for Catholics, is not equivalent to the worship of the Trinity (or any of its persons). Let’s make that clear right off the bat. Catholics define three types of worship. The highest form is latria, and is reserved for God and God alone. Latria is adoration, which can only be given to God—given to anyone else, it is idolatry and, therefore, a grave sin.

The Church describes adoration in a few ways, but here are some of my favorite for this context:

  • “Adoration is the acknowledgement of God as God, creator and savior, the Lord and master of everything that exists as infinite and merciful love.” CCC 2096
  • “Adoration is homage of the spirit to the King of glory, respectful silence in the presence of the ever greater God.” CCC 2628
  • “True adoration involves a docile heart, an assent to God’s sovereignty over our lives, a constant posture of humility before Him, and gifts of love offered in homage.” CCC 2111
  • Adoration is “the highest reverence to be offered only to God, our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, who alone should be worshiped and glorified.” Concise Dictionary of Theology

This worship can be given, inherently, only to God. It is one of the four ends of prayer (comprised also of atonement, supplication, and thanksgiving), and captures our respect, love, and subjection for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The two other forms of worship—hyperdulia and dulia—are directed toward Mary and the rest of the saints, respectively.  Both are defined by reverence, as opposed to the adoration involved in latria. Catholics are not called to pay homage to the saints, nor are we praying for them to perform any kind of miracle on their own.

Here’s the thing about saints: we ask them for their intercession, not their intervention. The saints intercede for us by praying for us to God. They are credited with miracles not because of their own power or ability, but because God responded to their devotion by sharing His gifts with and through them. In fact, many saints objected to being credited with miracles because they insisted their actions were performed by God’s hands alone.

Though it sounds complicated, sainthood comes down to a simple principle: it means we’re confident—based on their actions and devotion to a life lived for God—a person is truly in heaven. That’s why people aren’t made saints until after they die; it’s why it takes a long time for the Church to canonize anyone, since some investigation is required to make this statement confidently; and it’s why we have All Saints Day, which recognizes and shares love with the saints whose names we don’t know.

The short of it is that everyone in Heaven is a saint and, because they’re in Heaven, they’re closer to God than we can ever be whilst here on earth. Since we know they are close to God, we ask for their intercession because we know their prayers on our behalf will be heard. We all have a penchant for making mistakes and breaking promises, so we can use all the help we can get. Prayers of intercession from souls who may literally be sharing a table with God at this very moment certainly couldn’t hurt our hopes of staying on the righteous paths we are made to walk.

In their incredibly helpful roles as prayerful supporters, the saints aid our efforts to seek forgiveness, of course, but also to be stronger, to improve ourselves as people, and to be closer to God. They do this by praying for and with us, as well as by serving as examples of holy living here on earth. What I mean is that saints are brothers and sisters whom we can look up to, both literally and figuratively. There is no better role model than a person who’s won the true battle and made it to the ultimate realm of happiness, love, and spiritual “success.”

While we’re admiring the saints, we’re also invited to identify with them. They struggled and misstepped and tripped just as we do; they know our suffering. Fortunately for us, they—and their real compassion and wisdom—are always there to help.

My husband and I practice NFP. Now you know.

Pop quiz: What’s number one on the list of FAQs encountered by virtually every newlywed couple ever?

“So, are you planning on having kids?”

Bingo. All of us hear it. Even though it can get irksome from time to time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our families asking about it. For some of them, it’s something akin to “Are we there yet?” They’re excited to hear the pitter-patter of little feet and see a little bundle at the next family gathering. Who isn’t?

Plus, it gives me hope. The fact that building a family of happy, well-loved children is still foundational to marriage—and the logical next step—is encouraging. Because that means family still matters.

Like anyone, Erik and I do our best to answer this question honestly, discreetly, and without awkwardness. Our children, after all, will be neighbors, friends, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren to these people. It takes a village.

But there’s something tricky about our answer that, if I’m honest, I could do a better job of addressing. And when I say “tricky,” I don’t mean “crazy” or “questionable.” I mean “misunderstood” and, often, “looked down upon.”

Natural family planning is hard for me to talk about. That’s partly because it’s hard to make people understand. Frankly, though, it’s also because I always expect to be judged. And the more I think about that, the more it bothers me—because, in my heart of hearts, I know there’s nothing crazy or questionable about it, and I know the people asking won’t react that way.

Typically, I’ll only barely discuss it with immediate family and virtually no one else. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Relative: “So, are you and Erik planning on having kids anytime soon?”

Me: “We definitely plan to have a family, but not right away. For now, we’re happy just enjoying each other as husband and wife.”

Erik and I are not shy about practicing our faith, nor are we shy about our efforts to adhere to the Church’s teachings. Maybe for that reason, I often get a really specific follow-up right about now. It’s typically accompanied by a skeptical look and mild concern.

Relative: “Well, are you doing anything to prevent it?”

And there’s the kicker. This is when I have to decide how deep I’m willing to get into the topic in that moment. Ultimately, I take one of two (very weak) approaches: vagueness or avoidance.

Me: “Yes, we’re being purposeful about it”  or “Yes, but nothing artificial.”

That’s the phrase I always use: “Nothing artificial.” And, usually, the relative will nod quietly and change the subject, or ask me a follow-up or two. (Examples: Does it work? Isn’t that rhythm method way out of style? Doesn’t that mean you can’t have sex?)

I’m a little ashamed to tell you that the conversation has never gotten much farther than that, unless I’m discussing it with someone I know is also practicing NFP, or at least in agreement with it. That’s because I’m afraid of judgment. And that shame is on me—not on the person who’s asking.

I should be excited to tell them how well it’s working for Erik and me, how close it keeps us, and how effectively it has helped us keep our lines of communication open. I should tell them how much better I understand my femininity and my fertility because of it. I should readily bring up all of the statistics I know by heart, all of the evidence, and the science behind the methodology we use. And, above all, I shouldn’t hesitate to bring my catechism into the conversation and talk about the most important question of all: why we do it. But I’m not that brave, and I am nervous.

For me, it’s pretty easy to be married. It’s easy to practice what I believe in private, with the support and close partnership of my husband. But sometimes it’s hard to bring that into the full light of day. And it’s hard not to worry about what other people will think.

So I’ll consider this my “debut” as an NFP user and advocate—even if it’s only in my circle of friends and family. I’ll keep talking about here, and I’ll try to be better in one-on-one conversations, too. Ask me about it. And don’t let me avoid giving you a genuine answer.

nfp-pro family

Celebrating Valentine’s Day for What it Is

This week is a doozy for my husband and me—both of our birthdays and Valentine’s Day fall in this little stretch of early- to mid-February. Because it’s so packed, it can be tough to balance all the special stuff. In the past, we’ve been tempted to more or less ignore Valentine’s Day. But if I’m honest with myself, I’d be disappointed if we did.

I know a lot of people complain about Valentine’s Day. Friends call it a Hallmark Holiday, or find it depressing if they’re single. And, in a lot of ways, I can see where they’re coming from. The materialism of it is both unfounded and unfortunate. After all, men and women shouldn’t feel boxed into “proving” their love with gifts. And no one should feel excluded just because they don’t have a romantic interest every February 14.

But I like to think of it this way: in an increasingly self-centered culture, what’s the harm in a chance to tell the people around us we love them? To give gifts of one kind or another, or create new memories that make the day special? Though it may seem like an excuse to go through the motions of gift exchanges and fancy dinners, at its heart, Valentine’s Day is much more meaningful as an opportunity to extend an expression of love to the people who are dear to us—whatever that means to each of us.

It’s also a feast day to celebrate a saint, who is ready and able to intercede for us if we ask him. History isn’t exceptionally clear about who St. Valentine (Valentinus in Latin) was, though they do have some clues. He was arrested and martyred in about the year 270 for marrying and otherwise aiding Christians living under Emperor Claudius in Rome. (Traditional stories suggest he attempted to convert the emperor himself to Christianity, which also contributed to his death sentence despite the emperor’s initial affinity for him.) While awaiting his execution, legend says that Valentinus restored the sight of his jailor’s blind daughter. [Source: Catholic.org.]

The Church calls St. Valentine the patron of love, happy marriages, lovers, and engaged couples, yes. But did you know he’s also patron of bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, plague, travelers, and young people? So Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be about romance. You can celebrate by greeting a stranger with kindness, thinking of loved ones who are traveling, praying for the sick, or sending a care package to a college friend or doing something nice for your younger siblings. That’s not too difficult, is it? And there’s nothing Hallmark about that.

There are many kinds of love. Don’t feel like Valentine’s Day is all rose bouquets and jewelry and greeting cards. Be genuine however you like. If you don’t have a spouse or significant other at your side today, don’t hesitate to tell your family you love them. Thank your friends for their presence in your life. Pray for the needy out of the goodness of your heart. And, though it may seem silly and contrived, take a moment to enjoy the frilly examples of love all around you. Love isn’t something to be scoffed at or ignored. Embrace it, let it fill you up, and be generous enough to spread it around.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and God bless!

Love and Beauty