The Veneration and Imitation of the Saints
1. If anyone has the good fortune during his lifetime to meet a Saint, he should be very grateful to God. What a wonder a Saint is! He is a man in whom God lives in the fullness of His grace, in such a way that St. Paul could say: "It now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)
He is a man of great spiritual tranquility who by being master of things outside himself as well as of the inner powers of his own being, can pay the full homage of love and obedience to God. He is a man from whose glance there flashes the living image of God. He can be found on a bed of pain, in the rags of a beggar, beneath the purple of a Cardinal, in the solitude of a hermitage, or in the hurly-burly of modern life. It is all the same, because he is no longer involved with himself nor with the world. He seeks God alone, Who is his love and his glory. Such is a Saint. If we are not lucky enough to meet him in reality, we can and should read and meditate about his life. The literature of the Saints is a practical complement to the Gospel, because it shows us how the Gospel should be lived.
2. Those Saints should be venerated who have been recognised as such by the Church. There is nothing to prevent us having devotion also to holy souls who have not received this formal recognition, and to baptised infants who died before reaching the use of reason. In the latter cases, however, only a private cult can be exercised.
The worship of the Saints is an act of veneration (dulia), not of adoration (latria), which can be given only to God. It is wrong to imagine, as many Protestants do, that by praying to and venerating the Saints we subtract something from the homage we owe to God. The veneration of the Saints and the adoration of God are entirely distinct activities. Moreover, the Saints are the faithful servants of God and intercede with Him on our behalf. By venerating and invoking them, we honour the Giver of all holiness. If anyone, on the other hand, were to disregard the worship of God in favour of devotion to the Saints, he would be making a serious mistake. A person who goes into a church and rushes over to a statue of the Blessed Virgin or of one of the Saints, without giving a thought to the living and real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist, is developing a false and sentimental piety.
3. It is not enough simply to honour the Saints. We should love and imitate them as well. Following the example of the Saints, as St. Paul says, is the same as imitating Jesus Christ Himself. (I Cor. 4:16) It is a step towards Christian perfection. No matter what our circumstances, we have outstanding models to follow. From St. Francis of Assisi we can learn to be detached from worldly things, even to the point of loving poverty. From St. Philip Neri we can learn to despise honours and to make God and Heaven the object of our desires and actions. St. Francis de Sales, although he was by nature resentful and scathing, can teach us to be gentle and calm in all the trials of life. We can learn heroic love for the poor and unfortunate from St. Vincent de Paul. We can imitate the fervent apostolic work of St. Francis Xavier. St. Charles Borromeo sold his goods and gave all to the poor. During the plague in Milan he dedicated himself lovingly to the care of the unfortunate victims, selling his household furniture and even his bed, so that he had nothing left to sleep on but a table. We can learn from his example how the flame of Christ's charity can transform the heart and overcome all human wretchedness. Above all, let us remember that our devotion to the Saints will be valueless if it is not accompanied by untiring efforts to follow their example.