In Brazil, we have in June, the traditional “June Festivals,” originating from the celebrations of Saint Anthony (on the 13th), Saint John the Baptist (on the 24th) and Saint Peter (on the 29th). In these festivals, we have special dances, typical food, different games, bonfires, fireworks, all in honor of those dear saints. But what is the reason the Catholic Church honors the memory of the saints?
Jesus, in the Sermon of the Mountain, tells us: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) Saint Peter emphasizes: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16). This way, all of us are called to be holy; this is our true vocation.
To search for holiness means to strive to live here on Earth the ideal for which the Father has created us, trying to carry out His will in everything, even if it demands big sacrifices. We should have a prayer life, faithfully fulfill our duties, and seek to be a better person each day.
As God is love, the Father doesn’t leave us alone in this hard path. He gave us Mary, our Mother and Queen, to guide and educate us. He also shows us the examples of so many brothers and sisters who had the same faults that we have, but with prayer, humility, and a lot of effort, they were able to overcome them. Today they enjoy the happiness of Heaven and intercede on our behalf. That is the reason the Church, as Master and Mother, makes a point of honoring the memory of those persons, to give us encouragement on our way to Heaven.
The saints are people who generously answered this invitation to put God in the center of their lives and are examples to each one of us, showing it is indeed possible to tread this path. The Catholic Church is so rich in examples of holiness that we have saints of all kinds, of all origins, professions, social classes, some who were sanctified still in the womb of his mother, such as Saint John the Baptist and others, like Saint Augustine who only converted in adulthood and cried to Jesus: “I loved you late . . .”
Depending on the difficulties they overcame or the extraordinary graces they received here on Earth, each saint is known to help in specific situations. Their mission was not finished when they left Earth, but they keep on fulfilling it in Heaven. As Saint Therese of Lisieux once said: “I’ll spend my Heaven doing good!”
Saint Anthony is known in my culture as the “marriage-maker saint,” because while he lived, in a time when a woman only got married if she had a dowry, he helped poor young women to get this dowry and a layette so they could marry. There are reports of many women who were able to find a husband asking the intercession of this saint.
Saint John the Baptist is the patron of the ones wronged because of the faith, considering that he died because he announced the Kingdom of God and asked for the conversion of the sinners. Saint Peter, the first Pope, is the patron of the fishermen (it was his profession before he followed Jesus) and the patron of the widows (because the Gospel talks about his mother in law, but not his wife, so one can assume he was a widow). Besides that, he is represented with keys in his hands, “the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,” that Jesus trusted him. (Mt 16:19)
It is important to note that we can and should ask for the intercession of the saints, but never do “sympathies” or follow superstitions. “Sympathies” is the Portuguese term for something you do in a way to “force” the saint to help you when asking for something. These practices go against the First Commandment that is “to love God above all things,” because we put our faith and our hope in another thing, not in God. Besides that, those “sympathies” are just plain cheating. They act like a temptation to “make” the saint fulfill our will, putting our own will above the will of God for our life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary.” (CCC, Nr 2111). It is recommended that the person seeks the sacrament of Confession, in the case that she committed that fault, even if there wasn’t a complete awareness that it was a wrong thing to do.
Therefore, let’s enjoy this time of the “June Festivals” and deepen our prayer for the saints we celebrate, rescuing the true meaning of those celebrations. One tip is to try to learn more about the life of the saints, not only the ones we celebrate in June, and try to follow their examples. For our children, a good option is to tell every day the story of a saint at bedtime and create the habit of asking the intercession of our friends in Heaven.