My Extended Family

It has been a custom or tradition in most homes to keep framed pictures of loved ones and relatives in a room or rooms, whether on the wall or shelf. We do this to honor the memory of these people who came before us. Stories are told about them and their lives are shared with the next generations, emphasis being placed on the good or the humorous (often growing in embellishment with each passing year) so that our children may get a glimpse of their heritage as well as glean wisdom from the lessons of the past.

“That’s your Uncle Joe. While he would cuss like a sailor I’ll never forget the time he stopped to help those people stranded on the interstate when …”

“Your great-grandmother Viola was a little girl who chased threshing machines through the fields, road a neighbor’s white horse every Sunday when she was 14, and would steal her older brother’s bicycle when they were away so she could ride. She was amazing.”

wall picturesThere is another wall in our home on which photos are hung, at least metaphorically. On this wall hang the images of my other family members: the saints. They are there for much of the same reason as those of my family: to honor the memory of those Christians who came before. For the purpose of sharing stories about their time on this earth, both the serious and the funny, so that me and my family is reminded of our heritage as Catholics as well as learning lessons from the past.

I say metaphorically because I do not have that dedicated wall for our favorite saints, though I’m thinking that I should do so. We do have their images prevalent in our home either through the a holy card or bookmark, etc. But if I have a framed portrait of eight “Red Sox All-Time Greats” and their baseball cards displayed downstairs on a basement wall why on earth wouldn’t I have the same thing done for those whom I strive to emulate? We have pictures of pop stars, sports stars or movie stars all around us, few of whom are hardly role models of virtue or even of reality. Why not emphasize the lives of those who strove to do what we are called to do: imitate Christ.

I’ll present a brief list of my favorite Christian “relatives” tomorrow, but first a word to clear up a common misunderstanding about Catholics and the saints. Catholics do not worship the saints any more than you or I would worship my grandmother. They are human just as you or I are human. Where non-Catholics (and even some Catholics) get confused can be explained this way: we venerate the saints. Veneration given to the saints is called dulia. Higher veneration given to Mary is called hyperdulia. This devotion “differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit” (CCC 971). The only worship we are to do is the supreme worship or adoration due to God alone. This is called latria. (Go here for more background including how some branches of all major religions including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism practice veneration.)

There is a lot of good information on why it is that Catholics honor these holy men and women. I refer specifically to the following paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 956-959, 962 and 823-829. These paragraphs speak of our striving to be “more closely united to Christ”, of the Church and “its pilgrim members” honoring “with great respect the memory of the dead”. Of loving one another “all of us who … form one family in Christ.” Seems pretty straightforward and makes sense to me. But in the interest of brevity I will include only #957:

Communion with the saints. “It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself”: We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples!

Charity (love). Union. Strengthening ourselves through communion with the saints. Joining ourselves to Christ.

Sounds good to me.

Tomorrow I’ll post the eight “relatives” I would hang on my wall as a start. I say “start” because as is the case with all of us we come from huge families when we trace our lineage back further than a few generations. While the exact number of saints recognized by the Catholic Church is unknown, there are at least a thousand, all with different traits, personality quirks, at times strange stories and lessons to teach.

Kind of like our families.


Photo source.


3 thoughts on “My Extended Family

  1. I started to comment as soon as I saw this post, but then thought I’d put if off as, really, I have other things to do! But then I saw your comments on my post and knew this was important.

    I really liked your metaphor of comparing saints to your relatives. Growing up Protestant, I am not accustomed to venerating the saints. I think one of my biggest questions over the years has been, besides some of the very obvious ones—such as Mary, Joseph, Saint Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, etc.—who decides what persons deserve to be venerated? Only God knows our hearts. And I just don’t trust people, no matter how “holy”…

    Obviously God could have set up His Church here on earth—the Catholic Church—and that fact would remain true no matter what people do: The institution is holy and infallible; it is the people who are not. No one is perfect in any religion.

    I will now make a confession, and you might like me less for it. The “he” in my poem, “Carry On” is, today, a Dominican priest. Letting go of him for God was/is very hard for me. But, back when we were still in touch, we prayed together, and in his prayer he spoke to the Saints—asked them to intercede for us, or something to that effect. The whole thing felt very strange to me. It’s something that would take a while for me to get used to.

    Great post.


    • Thank you Jessica. I know you’re very busy right now with various writing projects and I always appreciate reading your thoughtful point of view. I also grew up Protestant and struggled with many questions surrounding the saints. I found that my path to understanding was blocked more by what Catholics didn’t in fact do or believe than what they do in fact practice. I’m curious about your questions regarding Mary, Joseph, St. Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa. My e-mail address is on the “About this blog” page under “About Me”. Not because I’m trying to sway you, but because I’m genuinely interested.

      You’re right of course. No one can know our hearts but God, nor is anyone perfect. What I’ve learned in my reading and studying of holy men and women of all faiths is that they are more often the ones who are very aware of just how great a sinners they are and how far they “fall short of the glory of God.”

      PS: Your poem was a very open and honest expression of your heart. He may have become a priest, but he is still a man. As real and as human as you or I. He had a life that he gave up as well and you were a part of that. I’m sure it took a lot of time and prayerful discernment for him to make that decision. Of course I don’t like you less. I should box your ears for saying so. (Only kidding)

      I may write something on the intercession of the saints sometime. It would be worth exploring.

      As always, great comments Jess. Take good care of yourself.


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