Learning from the Saints
This year, follow the example and wisdom of the holy ones.


A Year with the Saints: Daily Meditations with the Holy Ones of God is a handsome daily devotional edited by Paul Thigpen (and it’s available for Kindle, too), published by the Catholic St. Benedict’s Press. It’s got Church fathers and doctors of the Church, and it covers household names like St. Augustine, as well as the lesser-known St. John Eudes and St. John Chrysostom. Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena, and St. Clare get equal time, too. Thigpen, who dedicates the book to his grandchildren — “three little saints in the making” — talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about spending a year with the saints.

LOPEZ: How does one become a “holy one of God”?

THIGPEN: One surefire way to holiness is to imitate the saints and to take their wisdom to heart. In fact, the New Testament word for “saint” means literally “holy one.” Pope St. Clement once said, “Those who follow the saints will themselves become saints.” That’s the purpose of this book: to help people become saints through getting to know the saints.

LOPEZ: Do you worship the saints? There is some confusion out there.

THIGPEN: Since ancient times, the Catholic Church has recognized the difference between veneration and adoration (or what today we would call worship). Adoration (worship) is the act of giving ourselves to God as the One to whom we owe everything, an act of absolute submission to Him. He alone, then, is to be adored, to be worshiped, in this sense.

Veneration, on the other hand, is a much lesser thing: the paying of appropriate honor to a creature of God who deserves such honor. When we venerate the saints, then, we’re not adoring them as if they were the source of our existence, or worshiping them in the modern sense of the word. We’re simply honoring them.

Showing honor is a natural human response to the goodness, even the greatness, of another human being. We honor the founders and other leaders of our country from throughout our history. We name cities after them, write books about them, erect statues of them in public places. We paint pictures of them to display in schools and government buildings. We speak reverently and gratefully of them on patriotic holidays.

We do similar things for great scientists, great leaders of social movements, great artists and musicians. Why? Because it’s a matter of justice to recognize their gifts and contributions to us. Justice means giving to each his due, and we recognize that we owe much to these great human beings, and we want to say so in different ways.

In all these ways, we are venerating these great men and women — we are giving them honor. And so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Catholic Church venerates the great heroes of the faith, who over the centuries have embodied in an extraordinary manner the way of life to which we’re called as Christians. Now that these men and women have been perfected by God and are saints standing face to face with Him in heaven, we have even more reason to venerate them.

Some may object that if we venerate the saints, God will be jealous, because we should give honor to Him alone. But He’s a God of justice, so it’s His will that honor be given where honor is due. Scripture tells us: “Pay . . . honor to whom honor is due” The saints are His perfected handiwork, His masterpieces. When we praise the craftsmanship, all the accolades go to the craftsman.