One of the things that impress itself on non-Catholics about our faith is the place we give to the saints. It would seem to the outside observer that heaven is divided into different departments, such that when you have a particular need you go to that department and ask for help. For example, if you lose something and, you are directed to pray to St. Anthony. When he answers you and you find what you lost, you become a devotee of St. Anthony and thank him for the favor.
While this is clearly against Catholic teaching, it’s quite a common misunderstanding. Perhaps a better way of looking at the helping of the saints is to imagine ourselves asking a very important person for a favor. It is useful under these circumstances to enlist the help of someone who the important person thinks very highly of so that the request be given a little more prominence. So we get letters or even the very presence of the friend of the potentate to accompany us as we make our request or as we allow the friend in the case to make the appeal. This is the role of the saints. I ask St. Anthony not for the favor itself, since he is powerless to give it to me, but I ask him as a friend of mine to come with me to God when I ask it of Him (or I allow St. Anthony to make the request to God directly).
This does not mean that I cannot go directly to God myself; but, knowing my weaknesses and my sinfulness, I ask St. Anthony to accompany me that I might not lose heart. This of course presupposes that I have a deep and lasting friendship with St. Anthony. Friendship is deepened and developed by self-communication, shared joy and sorrow and the time together which helps us to understand another. It requires that we get to know the saint and allow him or her to get to know us. This is not in place of the Adoration and service to God, but as a secondary growth in the affairs of that other world to which we are hopefully directed. It is not worship of that saint, but a friendship that is developed that has, as its firm shared purpose, the worship of the God that unites us in this friendship. It is this growing relationship with a saint or saints that helps to anchor us to the direction of heaven and the afterlife, the concerns of which should more and more occupy us as we live this short and troublesome life on earth.
To illustrate what I mean, I would like to share a dream I had as a young boy growing up in Brooklyn. I was a particularly bothersome little boy of elderly parents who were at a loss how to discipline me. I was a bit of a brat! One night I had a dream. I remember it to this day even though I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had it. St. Anthony, in a very kindly way, took me aside and gently told me that I was behaving badly with my parents and that it would be good to change that. He spoke so calmly and with such love for me that I felt greatly affirmed and wanted to change, not only for my parent’s benefits, but also because I wanted to please St. Anthony who spoke to me like a big brother and best friend. When I woke up I immediately resolved to be a more behaved child so much so that my mother asked what happened that I changed so much. I told her about the dream and she understood completely and seemed very happy that St. Anthony intervened.
This is what I mean by our relationship with the saints. They are our friends and guides to help us do the will of God.
I sometimes imagine that, when I die and open the eyes of my soul in the next world, I will see, surrounding me with great welcome and love, all the saints that I got to know and love in my short journey here on earth, and that they bring me without any fear but much great reverence into the presence of almighty God Who created me and Who loves me more than anyone could here on earth. What a great moment that may be! May I do nothing here on earth that would prevent this from happening; and, if I must enter the purifying fires of Purgatory first, I do so happily and willingly knowing that my celestial friends and holy helpers will wait; and then, when ready to enter His presence, they will escort me into the joy I have always wanted.