With Lent underway, parishes of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe are gearing up in preparation for the celebration of first sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist (Communion) at the Easter Vigil, the conclusion of a process known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This is a preparation for the reception into the Catholic Church through baptism of unbaptized adults, known as catechumens, and baptized Christians who seek full initiation with the Church by the celebration of Confirmation and/or Eucharist, and they are called candidates. Already the archdiocese has begun the Rite of Election, a ritual in which catechumens sign their names in the Book of the Elect, indicating they have chosen to enter the Church through baptism by their own free will. The first occurrence this year of those rites took place in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Santa Fe this last Sunday. The event will repeat in two other areas, Santa Rosa and Albuquerque, on Saturday and Sunday, February 23 and 24 respectively.
One of the parts of the process is for the catechumens and candidates to develop a knowledge of the Communion of Saints, a calling for all to sainthood, and to choose a patron name. The list of saints is very long, and a diligent preparer will examine a few names and the stories of their lives before making a choice.
Naming is an essential part of the Church today and also back to the very beginning of the Bible. God named the man and woman and gave them the authority to name the other creatures of the world. God changed the name of the patriarch Abram to Abraham. In the New Testament of the Christian Covenant, the first words of Matthew’s Gospel are a listing of the characters in the lineage between David and Jesus, and then, before the Nativity of the Lord, the angel tells Mary and Joseph that the child is to be called ‘Jesus.’
The Gospel according to Luke dives even quicker and deeper into the question of names. The Jewish priest, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, who was barren, were promised by God a child in their old age. When the elder scoffed at the idea, he was made silent until after the child was born. At the presentation ceremonies, the temple officials refused to accept Elizabeth’s naming of the child: John. They insisted that the boy should bear the name of his father’s lineage, to which Zechariah grabbed a tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” His ability to speak was returned at once.
The saints who are honored by the Church today include many who certainly were ‘no saints’ during portions of their lives. The great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, actually wrote about his sinful life (Confessions), how he partook of virtually every vice known in his day, before being led to a deeper faith and a great conversion guided by another Doctor of the Church, St. Ambrose.
A great many of the saints achieved their sainthood by one great moment in their lives, and the largest number of those reached that point by martyrdom. These were the men and women, boys and girls, who, no matter what else they had done in their lives, stood up for Christ to the point of their own torture and death. As an example, St. Stephan was a Greek, not a Jew, in the early Christian movement, and he had to stand up to the larger, ruling body of Jews in order to get equal rights for the growing Gentile population that traveled with him. Stephan was a holy man, ‘filled with the Spirit,’ a good preacher and administrator, but he was also a bit of a protagonist in dealing with others. He always seemed to welcome debate or argument from learned men and common folk alike.
Acts of the Apostles reveals that Stephan rose in popularity for his righteousness and likewise cultivated some powerful enemies within the individual sects. He was brought up on false accusations of blasphemy against God and the Law of Moses. In the end, Stephan spoke a great discourse on the history of the Jewish people but was still forced from the city. The crowd assaulted him with words and rocks. As he prayed in peace for their forgiveness, St. Stephan was stoned to death.
The list of the common names we know could go on and on: the apostles, Francis, Dominic, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Aquinas, Mary Magdalene, Joseph, but that eludes what a saint really is.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the communion of saints as a communion between holy things and/or holy people. The communion of saints on earth is the presence of the Church. Sainthood is not some special gift offered to a select few, but rather a calling from God for all to be His holy people. The catechism further explains that the saints in heaven are witnesses who have gone before us, who continue in prayer and holy things, in service of the Lord and of humanity. They are blessed by God and put in charge of many things that take place on earth. Theirs is a life of complete love of God and of His people. (CCC #2683)
As catechumens and candidates prepare to choose the name of their patron saints, we should all reflect on our role as participants in the communion of saints. We should cherish our moments of spiritual strength, and thank God, who lifts us up when we are weak. “I have given you an example, so you also should do” (John 13:15) Whose example have I been today?