Catholic Standard El Pregonero
Classifieds Buy Photos

The saints, role models for being human and holy

For the past 40 years whenever I celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation, I regularly take the opportunity to acquaint our young people with the saints. I urged them to choose a patronal saint for their Confirmation name and then to learn about the saints that they had chosen. I do so because the saints play a critically important role in the life of the Church. They are the Catholics who have succeeded in being very human and simultaneously very holy – the same challenge that we all now face.

Our young people always need heroes in their lives – people of substance to help them to understand what true success is actually all about. Too many of the popular personalities to whom young people often gravitate do not provide the type of human examples that will keep our youngsters truly happy and satisfied.  The saints have always provided those types of models by being truly human and deeply spiritually triumphant.

The human qualities of the saints act as assurances that God can and does draw holiness out of a good sense of humor, a strong attraction to sports, and the persisting ability to overcome mistakes and then to start all over again. These human characteristics should encourage all of us in the pursuit of holiness.  They are essential for young people starting out in life.

Saint John XXIII served as pope from 1958 to 1963 and was canonized in 2014. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

I love the saints who had a well-developed and demonstrated sense of humor.  Saint John XXIII was a notoriously funny man. In one of his first appearances as the new pope, one person shouted out: “He’s so fat!”  To which the pontiff replied: “The conclave was not a beauty contest!”

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was a struggling student who excelled in mountain climbing. The Italian young adult had complete faith in God and persevered through college, dedicating himself to helping the poor and supporting church social teaching. He died at age 24 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990. He is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News file photo)

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati loved skiing in the Italian mountains. He was also deeply devoted to caring for the poor in Turin – so much so that at his funeral, his wealthy family members were stunned at how many of the town’s poor came to mourn his passing.  He had made many of them the recipients of his abundant generosity.

Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian teen who was beatified in 2020, had a great love of the Eucharist and used his technology skills to build an online database of Eucharistic miracles that have been recognized around the world. He is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo/courtesy Sainthood Cause of Carlo Acutis)

Blessed Carlo Acutis now lies in state wearing Nike sneakers as a visible reminder that he was a teenager who enjoyed the games and activities in which all teenagers participate. Carlo’s profound love for the Eucharist did not rob him of his youthful joy.

In short, saints are like us in so many typical ways even as they serve as models for holiness. There are lots of candidates for sainthood whose lives are being reviewed now. Six of those candidates are African Americans whose faith witness has become a source of encouragement for all of us.

Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman was a dynamo evangelizer whose energy and zeal were recognized by the U.S. bishops in June 1989 when she addressed our conference in Newark. 

Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, born into slavery, was the first recognized Black American ordained to the priesthood and is a candidate for sainthood, is pictured in an undated portrait. An annual procession to the gravesite of Father Tolton, one of six Black Catholic candidates for sainthood, will be joined July 9, 2024, by pilgrims walking the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage en route to Indianapolis. (CNS photo/courtesy of Archdiocese of Chicago Archives and Records Center)

Venerable Father Augustus Tolton was the first identified African American priest to serve in the USA. His life is now dramatized in a moving production titled: Tolton: From Slave to Priesta play that was recently performed at The Catholic University of America.

All six of these extraordinary Catholics are on the path to being formally recognized as saints and acknowledged as spiritual inspirations for the people of our time.  Along with all of the Church’s saints, they should encourage us to see how the strength of their humanity led them to holiness – as our human struggles and triumphs can and should do the same for us.

(Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, writes his “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.)