FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
Devotion is simply – as St. Francis of Sales tells us – “true love of God” (Introduction to the Devout Life). There is devotion to God and there are devotions to the saints, including the special devotion to Mary. The devotion to God is necessary for our salvation while the devotions to the saints are not, but they may be very helpful to achieve eternal salvation and happiness here and in the hereafter.
We are free to be devoted to one saint or another. All Christians, however, are asked to be devotees of Mary because she is the Mother of the Son of God and the disciple of disciples and our best intercessor before Jesus the Mediator. Among the saints, and after Mary, St. Joseph has a special place in the heart of all Christians: He is the head of the Family of Nazareth, the Spouse of Mary and the Guardian of Jesus the Son of God and of Mary. St. Joseph, the just man of the Gospel, is the universal patron of the Church and therefore deserves in a particular way our veneration and prayers.
END OF OUR DEVOTIONS TO THE SAINTS
What is the end or goal of our devotions – prayers, novenas, petitions – to the saints?All devotions are ordered to God. “Devotion to the saints does not end in them but in God” (St. Thomas Aquinas; cf. Paul VI, Marialis Cultus 37). Truly, Jesus is the end of all our devotions.
All the saints follow Jesus and direct us to Him.Every one of the saints, starting with Mary, who is the holiest among the saints, those canonized or beatified and so many anonymous women and men who lived their ordinary lives with extraordinary fidelity to God, and generous and compassionate service to neighbors. Jesus then is the goal of all our devotions to Mary, to the angels and saints. Thus, the authentic life of every Christian means imitating, following and being transfigured – as much as possible – into Christ. St. Paul tells us that we are a “letter of Jesus” to the world (2 Cor 3:3), and the “aroma of Christ” in the world (cf. 2 Cor 2:14-15).
An inescapable question: Do our devotions help us be good Christians? They do help us if they produce good fruits in us, that is, good deeds, which proceed from God’s grace and love in us, and our free and modest cooperation. Good deeds are the fruits of holiness: love of God and neighbor, humility, forgiveness, prayerfulness, and also of love of our own cross. In this context, we recall two significant sayings of St. Teresa of Avila: “Few devotions and much devotion”; “From silly devotions deliver us, Lord!”
Our authentic devotions to the saints, especially to Mary, help us through their intercession before Jesus to attain our objective, that is, following Jesus as the way to our home. We are citizens of heaven! Kempis advises us: “Make now to yourself friends, by honoring the saints of God, and imitating their actions, that when you leave this life, they may receive you into everlasting dwelling” (Imitation of Christ).
CALLED TO BE HOLY
Devotion to the saints does not consist in applauding them or in praising them, but mainly in imitating them as models of following Jesus. The saints of our devotions call us to be saints – like them.
Unfortunately, holiness or sanctity continues to be – for some or many among us, even perhaps among religious men and women –are words that we usually apply to extraordinary people: apostles, prophets, mystics, martyrs, virgins, confessors and “perfect” persons. We are not among them. Therefore, holiness is not for us. Indeed, only God is perfect, but God wants us to share in His holiness and happiness, and He invites us constantly to be holy and happy.
Vatican II underlines that all Christians are called to holiness, that is, to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity (cf. LG 40; CCC 2013). God said to the people of Israel: “Be holy as I am holy” (Lev 20:26). And Jesus: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Holiness simply means intimate union with God, a union of love with Him (vertical dimension) and with the neighbor (horizontal dimension).
How do we walk by the road of holiness? By following Jesus, the Beatitude of God. The Beatitudes of Jesus (cf. Mt 5:1-12are the way of holiness and happiness. All the Beatitudes have a common denominator, namely happiness–a happiness that begins here. The eight Beatitudes are really “eight forms of happiness” (J. M. Cabodevilla). The saints, the blessed ones, are the happiest people to walk on earth. They are truly free, that is, free to love!
The road of holiness is traveled more concretely by imitating the virtues of Jesus, the Virtuous One. Through the practice of the theological and moral virtues – all informed, given life by charity – we grow in love, in God’s love in our hearts. Practicing virtues – good habits – we progressively sideline from our hearts our enemies: pride, envy, avarice, lust, hatred, lies, injustice, violence, spiritualism, dogmatism, etc. (cf. Pope Francis, GE 134).
What is our daily road of holiness? Doing what we ought to do with love. Three key expressions point to us little but significant details of the practice of love in our daily life, saying, when we ought to, “Please,” “Thank you,” “Sorry” (GE, 145; AL, 133).
A saint was asked: what do I need to be a saint? Only three things, he said: “First, to want; second, to want; and third, to want.” The burning question each one is asked: Do you really want to be a saint? Certainly, the needed grace and love of God our Father will never fail us – never! God, moreover, wants from us our modest, free and generous cooperation.
Once upon a time, two of my students in Moral Theology at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, wrote on their greeting card for my birthday: “May God form a saint out of you.” God is still trying!