November 10, 2020 // Perspective

My saint friends

“Hey babe, grab the saints blanket, will you?” I called out to my husband.

A few moments later, he returned with a black blanket, the New Orleans Saints signature gold fleur-de-lis emblazoned across the fleece.

“Oh, sorry.” I mumbled. “I meant the saints blanket, like with the holy men and women faces.”

He turned bright red. “I should’ve known,” and he shuffled off to go find the blanket.

Only in a Catholic family in Louisiana does “grab the saints blanket” become a potentially confusing request.

The “saints blanket” in question is my 3-year-old’s most prized possession, given to her nearly a year ago when she was having a hard time falling asleep at night because she was scared of the dark. A Catholic artist had released the item in her shop, and I instantly bought one, determined the pictures of saints would be a comfort to my toddler.

I was right.

The blanket instantly became the “my saint friends” blanket, and Rose couldn’t sleep without it. Naptime. Bedtime. Snuggles on the couch. Gram and G’s house. Traveling for Christmas. The blanket came everywhere, and the bedtime struggles and naptime battles ceased.

Being wrapped in the faces of Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Oscar Romero, St. Gianna Molla, St. Philomena and St. Francis of Assisi was a comfort to our little girl.

Truthfully, it’s a comfort to me too.

Would that we all be wrapped in the faces — the lives and legacies — of the saints.

As a kid, I didn’t understand why we named parishes or schools after saints, nor did I grasp the logic behind naming a baby after a saint or hanging their pictures on the walls. Why do we have to pay so much attention to them? They were just holy people.

But that’s precisely why!

They were “just holy people” — just people, really. The saints are ordinary men and women who jumped at the God-given opportunity to live extraordinary lives of holiness, walking in heroic virtue, dedicating their lives to his glory and service to his people and Church. We look to them so that we can try and do the same.

My love of the saints and devotion to certain saints began to grow in my 20s. As I navigated a new career and dating, and then newlywed and new mom life, different saints came to the fore.

At first it was St. Therese. I learned I’d been baptized on her feast day, and she became a bit of a saintly sister, her little way and encouragement to love in small ways was helpful in the classroom with my freshman theology students.

Then it was St. John Paul, a pope I’d always considered brilliant, but also a pastor whom I learned was compassionate, kind and tender. Pouring over his writings opened my heart to a new understanding of Jesus as a companion.

I grew closer to Francis of Assisi and Gianna Molla, their lives of radical sacrifice and self-gift an encouragement in the early days of marriage.

Then I learned the story of Oscar Romero, a martyr who literally left everything at the altar of Our Lord.

Then it was Mother Teresa, and her words “wash the dirty dish not because it’s dirty … but because you love the person who will use it next” — a mantra I repeated as I washed baby bottles late at night, knowing it was an act of love.

The saints can become our friends, not just static figures in a picture on the wall but men and women we meet, learn about and grow to love. We have a chance to welcome them into our homes, tell their stories, learn from their struggles and emulate the heroic virtue they exhibited.

And then one day, perhaps there’s a blanket, covered in the faces of some of those holy men and women you’ve gotten to know and grown in holy friendship with … and you’ll wrap your daughter in their images, ask them to pray for your little girl and know they’ve become “her saint friends” too.

Katie Prejean McGrady is an international Catholic speaker and author.

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