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Never alone: Those in heaven are alive and here to help

During Eucharist, we connect to communion of saints who want us to live our best lives

Published: October 28, 2021   
Allison Hill
Erin Geohegan, 24, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church, prays to St. Thomas Aquinas near his statue and his book of meditations in her Little Rock home Oct. 24.

As Catholics pray the Apostles’ Creed at Mass, it can be easy to recite, rather than reflect on its important truths. Tucked between the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, is the belief in the communion of saints, a mystery of the Church that can, on the surface, seem like an abstract spiritual concept. But on All Saints Day, we celebrate that the saints are alive. 

“To recognize if you have a holy card of a saint, you’re not looking upon them as a dead person of history. They’re more alive than we are, and they can help us live our life to the fullest,” said Father Eddie D’Almeida, pastor at Holy Redeemer Church in El Dorado. 


Being in communion 

There are three divisions in the Catholic Church: The Church militant, representing the Church on earth; The Church suffering, the souls in purgatory; and the Church triumphant, the glory of God in heaven. 

All Saints Day, Nov. 1, recognizes the Church triumphant, celebrating the canonized saints in heaven and those we hope are in heaven. To be considered a “saint” means to be with Christ in heaven, which is the goal of all Catholics. The Church, in its authority, declares that certain individuals are in heaven by the grace of God and canonizes them as saints. The communion of saints includes all saints in heaven, canonized or not, including loved ones.  

“I think the saints are a good representation of we don’t have to be perfect, but we can still be holy. Because a lot of the people think saints are perfect, but they are just everyday people and if we can find one we relate to, we can help bring our lives closer to God because there's a role model we can follow.”

All Souls Day, Nov. 2, recognizes the souls in purgatory, continually praying for their purification. 

“The whole month is dedicated to all the souls, and we have hope and pray that our relatives are either being purified or are in heaven,” Father D'Almeida said. “Especially during the month of November and we have great ways of interceding for our relatives. Through indulgences, prayers, sacrifices.” 

People do a disservice to their deceased loved ones by “canonizing” them, Father D'Almeida said but should always remember to keep them in prayer in case they are awaiting heaven. He pointed to St. Joan of Arc, who didn’t herself presume to be in a state of grace when questioned by her persecutors, saying, “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the communion of saints refers to both the “holy things” (sancta), above all the Eucharist which unifies believers in the body of Christ, and “holy persons” (sancti) connecting the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory to us. 

Citing Pope Paul VI (catechism 962), it states: “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always (attentive) to our prayers.”

The communion of saints can be seen at the Blessed Sacrament at every Mass. 

“When the priest shows the host to the people, ‘Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world,’ we look upon there even in the host the communion of saints; we have the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. They are mystically present,” Father D'Almeida said. “When we go to a funeral, we can find solace in knowing that when we receive Jesus, we are connected with all the saints in heaven, all those who are being purified in purgatory and even connected with one another because we receive the glory here on earth in the Blessed Sacrament.” 


First-name basis

While it can be easy to think of the saints as people who lived a long time ago, they are active in the lives of the faithful. Erin Geohegan, 24, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, has been actively walking with St. Thomas Aquinas since eighth grade. Her history teacher showed a special on the 100 most influential people of the millennium, and St. Thomas made the list. It was the saint’s belief that science and religion can coexist that piqued her interest, as an aspiring chemical engineer. 

“It’s ‘Hey Thomas’ or ‘Thomas, please help me with this.’ It’s very informal,” she said of her devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas, who she also chose as her confirmation saint. “I’ve been through a lot with him, might as well be on a first-name basis.” 

He has helped her handle academics in high school, college and now grad school. She holds tight to a St. Thomas Aquinas medallion, a small statue and a prayer card so worn out from holding it in prayer she had to laminate it. 

“I saw a lot of similarities through my life and his. Not thinking his work is good enough and everyone saying, ‘No, your work is good.’ I’m a perfectionist so I never think my work is good enough,” Geohegan said. “He’s still my rock.” 

Just as Geohegan has learned, Catholics can ask for the saints in heaven to pray for them and journey with them throughout their lives. 

“A lot of times we think of life according to physical aspects because that’s the way we know things, through our five senses. In the Creed, we profess we believe God created everything, visible and invisible. Our spiritual life should always be above our physical,” Father D'Almeida said. “The saints live spiritually, and they're awaiting the physical resurrection to have their souls and bodies reunited, but they are living a spiritual reality that is the beatific vision, which is the goal of all of us.” 

Father D'Almeida said objectively, saints are very involved in our lives, but subjectively, it depends on how a person decides to recognize them. 

“We have a patron saint we choose for confirmation. A lot of times, we believe we choose the saint. I’ve heard it said before the saint chooses us,” he said. “It’s a two-way street. We are interested and our imaginations and our thoughts are sparked by the lives and examples of certain saints. They are attractive to us. But in the same ways, the saints and angels can be attracted to us.” 


Where do I start? 

In starting a devotion to a saint, Catholics can look at their individual desires, interests and dreams. And from that, research the lives of saints who lived in a similar manner and pray for their intercession. Geohegan said it’s also helpful to look at a career path and see if there’s a patron saint related to it. 

“I think the saints are a good representation of we don’t have to be perfect, but we can still be holy,” she said. “Because a lot of the people think saints are perfect, but they are just everyday people and if we can find one we relate to, we can help bring our lives closer to God because there's a role model we can follow.” 

It is important for Catholics to remember to avoid two extremes when it comes to saint devotions -- viewing them just as “historical characters” of the past or worshipping them. 

“The other extreme I think is superstition. To believe if you say some certain prayers or light certain candles or do certain things that they’re going to respond to your pleas,” Father D'Almeida said. 

To celebrate a particular saint on All Saints Day, Father D'Almeida suggested reading about a saint, using a holy card to pray for a saint’s intercession or lighting a candle before a statue or image of a saint in prayer. 

Ultimately, it’s about recognizing we are not alone and the saints in heaven are with us. 

“Even in our daily lives, there are people unbeknownst to us that are helping us at this very moment. And we may never know who they are until judgment day,” Father D'Almeida said. “And I think the saints are the same way. That we can have their intercession for us; they’re present with us and we may never know it until we die.”

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