A Community of Saints United on Earth and in Heaven
As he continued his series of catecheses on Saint Joseph on Wednesday morning, February 2, Pope Francis highlighted the importance of the communion of saints and shared a prayer dedicated to the Saint that he has been reciting for over 40 years. The following is a translation of the words of the Holy Father which he shared in Italian with the faithful gathered in Saint Paul’s Basilica vi Room.
Dear brothers and sisters,
In recent weeks we have been able to deepen our understanding of the figure of Saint Joseph, guided by the few but important pieces of information given in the Gospels, as well as by the aspects of his personality that the Church has been able to highlight in over the centuries through prayer and devotion. Exactly from this feel common (“common feeling”) that has characterized the figure of Saint Joseph throughout the history of the Church, today I would like to focus on an important article of faith that can enrich our Christian life and also shape our relationship with the saints and with our deceased loved ones in the best possible way: I am talking about the communion of saints. It is often said in the Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints”. But if you ask what the communion of saints is, I remember that as a child I immediately answered: “Ah, the saints communicate”. It’s something that… we don’t understand what we’re saying. What is the Communion of Saints? It’s not the saints who communicate, that’s not it. This is another thing.
Sometimes even Christianity can fall into forms of devotion that seem to reflect a mentality that is more pagan than Christian. The fundamental difference is the fact that our prayer and our devotion as faithful do not rest, in these cases, on trust in a human being, in an image or an object, even when we know that they are sacred. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man, […] Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” (17:5, 7). Even when we rely fully on the intercession of a saint, or even more on that of the Virgin Mary, our trust has value only in relation to Christ. As if the path to this saint or to Our Lady did not end there, no. He goes there, but in relation to Christ. Christ is the bond which unites us to him and to each other, and which bears a specific name: this bond which unites us all, between us and us with Christ, is the “communion of saints”. It’s not the saints who do miracles, no! “This saint is so miraculous…” No, stop there. The saints do not work miracles, only the grace of God working through them. Miracles are done by God, by the grace of God working through a holy person, a righteous person. It must be clear. There are people who say: “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in this saint”. No it is wrong. The saint is an intercessor, he who prays for us and we pray to him, and he prays for us and the Lord gives us grace: The Lord acts through the saint.
So what is the “communion of saints”? the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “The communion of saints is the Church” (no. 946). What a beautiful definition! “The communion of saints is the Church”. What does it mean? That the Church is reserved for the perfect? No. This means that it is the community of saved sinners. The Church is the community of saved sinners. It’s a nice definition. No one can be excluded from the Church. We are all saved sinners. Our holiness is the fruit of God’s love manifested in Christ, which sanctifies us by loving us in our misery and saving us from it. Thanks always to him, we form a single body, says Saint Paul, of which Jesus is the head and we are the members (cf. 1 Cor 12, 12). This image of the Body of Christ and the image of the body immediately make us understand what it means to be linked to each other in Communion“If one member suffers,” writes Saint Paul, “all suffer together; and if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually its members” (1 Cor 12:26-27). That’s what Paul says: we are all one body, all united by faith, by baptism, all in fellowship: united in fellowship with Jesus Christ. And that’s the communion of saints.
Dear brothers and dear sisters, the joy and pain that affects my life affects everyone, just as the joy and pain that affects the life of the brother and sister next to us affects me too. I cannot be indifferent to others, because we are all parts of one body, in communion. In this sense, even one individual’s sin still affects everyone, and each individual’s love affects everyone. By virtue of the communion of saints, of this union, each member of the Church is deeply linked to me. But I don’t say “mine” because I am the Pope — we are deeply and reciprocally linked and this link is so strong that it cannot be broken even by death. Indeed, the communion of saints concerns not only the brothers and sisters who are at my side at this historic moment, but also those who have concluded their earthly pilgrimage and crossed the threshold of death. They too are in communion with us. Consider, dear brothers and sisters, that in Christ no one can ever truly separate us from those we love because the bond is an existential bond, a strong bond that is in our very nature; only the way of being together with each of them changes, but nothing and no one can break this bond. “Father, let us think of those who have denied the faith, who are apostates, who are the persecutors of the Church, who have denied their baptism: are they also at home? “. Yes, those too, even the blasphemers, everyone. We are brothers. It is the communion of saints. The communion of saints unites the community of believers on earth and in heaven.
In this sense, the relationship of friendship that I can build with a brother or a sister next to me, I can also establish it with a brother or a sister who is in heaven. Saints are friends with whom we very often establish friendly relations. what we call devotion to a saint — “I am very devoted to such and such a saint” — what we call devotion is in fact a way of expressing love from this very bond that unites us. Also, in everyday life, we can say: “But this person has such devotion for his old parents”: no, it is a way of loving, an expression of love. And we all know we can always turn to a friend, especially when we’re in trouble and need help. And we have friends in heaven. We all need friends; we all need meaningful relationships to get us through life. Jesus also had his friends, and he turned to them at the most decisive moments of his human experience. In the history of the Church, there are constants that accompany the community of believers: first of all, the great affection and the very strong bond that the Church has always felt towards Mary, Mother of God and our Mother . But also the special honor and affection she bestowed on Saint Joseph. After all, God entrusts him with what is most precious to him: his Son Jesus and the Virgin Mary. It is always thanks to the communion of saints that we feel that the men and women saints who are our patrons — because of the name we bear, for example, because of the Church to which we belong, because of the place where we live, and so on, as well as by personal devotion — are close to us. And it is this trust that must always inspire us to turn to them at the decisive moments of our lives. It’s not some kind of magic, it’s not superstition, it’s devotion to saints. It’s simply talking to a brother, a sister, who is in the presence of God, who has led a righteous life, a holy life, an exemplary life, and who is now in the presence of God. And I speak to this brother, to this sister, and I ask their intercession for the needs that I have.
It is precisely for this reason that I would like to conclude this catechesis with a prayer to Saint Joseph to which I am particularly attached and which I have recited every day for more than 40 years. This is a prayer I found in a prayer book of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary, from the 1700s, late 18th century. It is very beautiful, but more than a prayer it is a challenge, to this friend, to this father, to this our tutor who is Saint Joseph. It would be wonderful if you could learn this prayer and repeat it. I will read it.
“Glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph, whose power makes the impossible possible, come to my aid in these times of anguish and difficulty. Take under your protection the serious and disturbing situations that I recommend to you, so that they may have a happy outcome. My beloved father, all my trust is in you. Let no one say that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power”.
And it ends with a challenge, it is to challenge Saint Joseph: “Since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power”. I entrust myself to Saint Joseph with this prayer every day for more than 40 years: it is an old prayer.
Let us go forward, let us have courage, in this communion of all the saints that we have in heaven and on earth: the Lord does not abandon us.
At the end of his catechesis, the Holy Father added the following words:
A few minutes ago, we heard a person shouting, screaming, who had some kind of problem, I don’t know if it was physical, psychological, spiritual: but it’s our brother in difficulty. I would like to end by praying for him, our brother who is suffering, the poor: if he cried out, it is because he is suffering, he has a need. We should not be deaf to the needs of this brother. Let us pray together to Our Lady for him: I salute you marie…
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors participating in today’s Audience, especially those from the United States of America. Today, feast of the Presentation of the Lord, let us pray especially for all consecrated men and women and members of societies of apostolic life, on this World Day of Consecrated Life. Upon all of you and upon your families, I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace. God bless you!
Finally, as usual, my thoughts turn to old peopleat the patientat young people and to newly weds. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem. A message for all emerges from this mystery: Christ stands as an example in his offering to the Father, showing the kind of generosity needed to adhere to God’s will and serve our brothers and sisters.
Today is also the feast of the encounter of Jesus with his people and above all of the encounter of the Child Jesus with the elderly. Please, let us advance in the development of this attitude of encounter between children and grandparents, young people and the elderly: this attitude is a resource of humanity. The elderly give us the strength to move forward; their memory, their history, and the children perpetuate it. Let us also work towards this meeting of grandchildren and grandparents, young people and the elderly.
I offer you all my blessings!