The idea of invoking the saints for help has fallen on hard times. Most Christians have no patience whatsoever with this concept. Generally, saints within the church are either benignly neglected or treated with a positive cynicism and disdain. However, within Christianity as a whole, not just within Roman Catholicism, there has existed a time-honored practice of asking the saints to help us. We have always had a litany of the saints. As well, though this is less well known, there has always existed among us as believers the idea of pagan saints, that is, the idea that certain persons, while not explicitly Christian, by the way they live their lives are, like Christian saints, canonized and trustworthy examples of what life lived under God should be.
We still need to invoke the saints for help, our Christian saints and our pagan saints. With this in mind, I offer a brief litany of some of my favorite saints, Christian and non-Christian.
Jerzy Popieluszko, farmer’s son, solidarity leader, spiritual father and friend of your people, Catholic priest, you were courageous enough to die for what you believed in, even when, like Christ, you screamed out in fear and pain and let your captors see you weak…Pray for us…help us to be less intimidated by our own fears and weaknesses.
Eleni Gatzoyiannis, mother, wife, woman victim, object of jealousy and hatred, misunderstood martyr, you were shorn of your pride and hair and tortured…Pray for us…help us to endure the tragic, the stupid, and the unfair in life without losing our love, our decency, and our willingness to die for others.
Anne Frank, child of dreams, child of vision, child of romance, child of pure heart, martyred at 14…Pray for us…help us to keep faith in the hope you had when you wrote: “Even in this time of cruelty I must uphold my ideals for perhaps the time will come when I will be able to carry them out.”
Davy Jean Vanauken, wife, romantic, passionate lover, convert to Christ…Pray for us…teach us what you taught your husband, that life must be held with an open hand, that the paschal mystery asks us to let go even of the greatest loves so that they might be transformed in Christ.
Dorothy Day, friend of the poor, friend of all, conscience of America, you loved both Marx and Jesus and you enjoyed a good smoke and a good raunchy story at 84…Pray for us…open our hearts to the poor, stir our consciences, and our senses of humor and celebration.
Martin Luther King, man of fidelity, you who never gave up on others even when they gave up on themselves, you stayed with your own until the end…Pray for us…help us to live in such a way that, when we die, they will say about us what they said about you: “S/he was faithful, s/he never gave up!”
Stan Rather, missionary, challenger of oppression in Central America, martyr, you were raised in a culture of MacDonald’s hamburgers, Bonanza, and Monday Night Football…Pray for us…help us to move beyond the comforts of affluence and privilege to, like you, cast our lot with the poor.
Thomas Merton, contemplative, torn, complex man…Pray for us…help us in our complexity to channel our erotic hearts and become single-minded and find that peace that comes from centering in God.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, community builder, lover of simplicity, woman of non-compromise, lady of Gospel-risk…Pray for us…help us to see, as you often said, that it is in the invisible shedding of blood that we find the seeds both of a new faith and of a lost one.
Peter Maurin, pilgrim, orator, failed Saskatchewan farmer, founder of the Catholic Worker, mentor of Dorothy Day, friend of all workers, generator of endless energy…Pray for us…may we all end our lives as you did, loved by a community, still sharing visions, still concerned, grateful to the earth just for giving you a room.
Malcolm X, militant martyr, agitator for equality, promoter of new consciousness…Pray for us…help us to be less timid, less small, less ghetto-ish.
Oscar Romero, victim, priest, Christ-figure, lamb of sacrifice, you died at the altar…Pray for us…help us to not grow bitter and fill with resentment when we meet opposition. Help us to be joyful and celebrating in the face of opposition and death.
C.S. Lewis, humorist, philosopher, storyteller par excellence, most reluctant convert in England, wine drinker and friend of many…Pray for us…help us to keep our vision clear, our hope strong, our hearts wide, our consciences honest, and our sense of humor sharp.
Gregory Dix, youthful daredevil, adult monk, hopeless idealist…Pray for us…give us your sense of life, your ideals, your scholarship, and your sense of what is important.
Mahatma Gandhi, true fighter, peacemaker, advocate of non-violence, and Hindu lover of Christ…Pray for us…teach us the path of non-violence, of true ecumenism of the heart, of understanding, and of courage.
All you saints of God, you saints of conscience, Christian and non-Christian, old and new, pray for us.