Our heavenly family after Vatican II

| Colleen Carroll Campbell | November 3, 2014 | 0 Comments


It’s a month known for food, family and frenzied holiday shopping. But for Catholics, November is also about heaven: specifically, the saints who have arrived there and the holy souls who long to join them.

Our Church’s focus on heaven and its citizens takes on special significance this November. Fifty years ago this month, Pope Paul VI promulgated one of the landmark documents of the Second Vatican Council, the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.” Known as “Lumen Gentium” (“Light of the Nations”), it famously proclaimed the “universal call to holiness” — the idea that sainthood is God’s will for each of us, not just for priests and nuns or some elite caste of professional Catholics.

Most Catholics believe in that universal call, at least in theory. Yet too many of us consider the saints, and the holiness they achieved, as impossibly distant. We celebrate All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, then spend the rest of the year struggling in solitude with our sins and trials, unaware of the powerful help the saints long to give us.

What’s more, some Catholics believe that turning to the saints for support or inspiration is passé, a relic of pre-Vatican II Catholicism that went the way of mantillas and altar rails.

It’s true that the Council Fathers moved or eliminated many saints’ feast days in an effort to streamline the Church’s liturgical calendar and keep our focus on Christ’s life. And they warned in “Lumen Gentium” against “any abuses, excesses or defects” in our devotion to saints that privilege “the multiplying of external acts” over learning from the saints’ virtues.

“Lumen Gentium” didn’t call for a sidelining of the saints, though — far from it. The same Vatican II document that summoned each of us to holiness also urged us to befriend the saints as a means of achieving that lofty goal. We should request the saints’ prayers and consider them family, “Lumen Gentium” says, “For just as Christian communion among wayfarers brings us closer to Christ, so our companionship
with the saints joins us to Christ.”

I believe it because I’ve experienced it. There was a time, during my college days, when I thought I was too old and worldly-wise to bother with saints. I still practiced the Catholic faith I was raised in, but I thought those dewy-eyed, cherubic stars of my childhood books had nothing much to say to a modern woman like me.

Then one December afternoon, I cracked open a biography of St. Teresa of Avila. I found myself captivated by the liberated, laugh-out-loud funny woman I encountered within its pages — a woman whose meandering quest for God cast my own sputtering search in a new light. Teresa became a true friend to me that day, a wise and loving elder sister whom Jesus used to draw me back to him.

Over the course of the next 15 years, as I grappled with everything from my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease to my own struggle with infertility, I found the saints to be a continual source of strength and consolation. I felt the power of their prayers. I was challenged — and changed — by their example. And I learned that the family of God in heaven is truly also a family to us on earth.

This November, as our Church celebrates the saints and the Vatican II document that called us to join their ranks, it’s a perfect time to reconnect with family — in heaven, as well as on earth.

Campbell is an award-winning author, print and broadcast journalist and former presidential speech writer. Her newest book, “My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir” (Image, 2012), has just been published in paperback.

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Category: Commentary