One of the best/weirdest parts of Catholicism is definitely the Communion of Saints. If you think hard enough about how the Bible talks about dead people and how all Christians uniformly revere St. Paul and St. Luke and St. John and the rest of the NT crew, it’s not too difficult to wrap your brain around what we Catholics believe about our heavenly intercessors, and why. But for some people it proves to be a real theological and conceptual sticking point.
Some common objections: “but they’re dead!” Well, not if you believe in eternal life with Christ.
“You can’t pray to a human person! Only Jesus answers prayers.” But we don’t pray “to” the saints, we ask them to pray for us. Which is Biblical.
“Who are we to say that someone is definitively in heaven? That’s just silly.”
Well, not to keep beating the dead horse that he fell off of, but St. Paul comes to mind. And the Virgin Mary. And St. Joseph. Moses. St. Timothy. St. Barnabus.
“Okay, okay, but anyone past Biblical times … we can’t know for sure if they’re up there. Sola Scriptura and all.”
Well, there is the small matter of the Catholic Church having compiled and declared which books of the Bible were canonical, preserving the words and eyewitness testimony of Christ (along with the Jews and the Jewish Scriptures) from antiquity to the present day.
Really it comes down to a matter of faith. Either you believe that Jesus is God, that He died and rose again, that He took our sins upon Himself on the Cross and offers us salvation and eternal life with Him in heaven, or you don’t.
If you do believe, I highly recommend cultivating a relationship with His saints and martyrs so as to have some great role models and powerful intercessors to lean on. (Some of my personal heroes: Mother Mary, St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Zelie, St. Joseph, St. Therese, St. Joan of Arc, St. Thomas More, St. John Vianney, St. John Bosco, St. Padre Pio, St. Mother Teresa, St. Michael, St. Josemaria Escriva, and Servant of God Julia Greeley.)
Our trip to Rome last month was for one primary purpose: to deliver the documents detailing the diocesan investigation of the cause for canonization for Servant of God Julia Greeley. Learn about her here if you haven’t heard her name before. The tl;dr is that Julia, a freed slave who worked and lived in Denver at the turn of the 20th century, is known as Denver’s “angel of charity” for her service to the poor, her apostolic zeal, and her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My husband was appointed “vice postulator” to her cause, and so we’ve spent the past 3 years getting a unique up close view of the Church’s saint-making process.
That he was tapped to head to Rome as the official carrier of the documents was icing on the cake. Zelie and I couldn’t resist tagging along for the ride as his plus one and two. We were in the Eternal City for a little under a week, and it was a beautiful, restorative and almost entirely stress-free affair (the flight home is sealed deep within my subconscious memory for future nightmare material.)
On the Friday morning of our trip, we got up bright and early and headed to 8 am Mass in St. Peter’s with my Italian co-workers, the CNA/EWTN Rome staff, lingered with the crew for a brief coffee break, and then dashed back to our hotel in the Borgo to retrieve the documents for Dave’s big appointment at the Congregazione delle Cause dei Santi.
Now when I reference “documents,” I don’t mean a nice leather portfolio with a few signed papers, or even an accordian file, but 4 enormous legal boxes (wrapped in red ribbon and sealed in wax with the Archbishop of Denver’s episcopal crest) which contained more than 17,000 pages of documentation. As the gentleman serving as postulator for Julia’s cause quipped while we waited in the lobby “that’s a lot of words for a woman who was illiterate!”
The documentation details everything known about Julia’s life, from her time on a plantation in Missouri as a domestic slave, to her life of charity in Denver, and included the forensic analysis of her mortal remains and countless first hand testimonies culled from various ecclesial and government archives about her character and her work.
After some deliberation about how exactly to get all that stuff to Italy, we ended up checking each of the 39.9 lb boxes as our checked baggage (thanks, Air Canada!) and prayed anxiously at the baggage claim at Fiumicino that they would arrive unscathed.
Arrive they did, and with wax seals still miraculously intact.
As we ducked back into our hotel room that morning to load up the boxes, Zelie had a wardrobe malfunction that required some serious scrubbing and swapping of garments. I urged Dave to leave without me, figuring I’d definitely be able to catch up with a guy in a suit dragging 150+ lbs of cardboard boxes across the cobbled streets outside St. Peter’s Square in the late morning heat of Rome.
Well, I was wrong, and when Zay and I did arrive at the building south of the Square where I knew the office to be located, there was no husband in sight. Trusting myself to the mercy and kindness shown to women with babies by every Italian man I’ve ever met, I tickled Zelie’s chin to make her smile and confidently pushed the stroller past the armed guard in the courtyard and up to the security station inside. Using my broken Itanglish and pure native charm, I convinced the bemused gentleman that he should wave us into the secure elevator and up to “Santi, santi!” to catch up with my beau.
Baby power being what it is in Italy, he acquiesced, and so Zelie and I burst into the outer office for the dicastery in the midst of a confused crowd of nuns and monsignors sitting behind desks. (Okay, okay, they were sisters, technically.) They cocked their heads at us as I smiled and asked if anyone had seen an American guy with a lot of boxes.
Eventually we reunited with Dave and our postulator, a dapper German fellow in a bespoke suit who bemusedly pushed the umbrella stroller through the marble corridors once I’d switched Zelie to the baby carrier to quiet her shrieks.
While waiting for our appointment (running predictably on Italian time, to sweaty Dave’s chagrin) I surveyed the tables near our seats. They were covered with holy cards depicting Blesseds, Venerables, and Servants of God from all over the world – an array of currently open causes of the Universal Church. I grabbed a few cards for Fr. Jacques Hamel, martyr priest from France, slaughtered at the altar by Islamic terrorists while praying the Mass a few years ago.
When it was finally our turn to meet with the priest who reports to the head of the dicastory, Zelie was fast asleep, and so I was able to pay close attention to the proceedings.
I have to say, after years of research and work and a few formal liturgical ceremonies on Denver’s end, Rome was so typically Italian that I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. At one point the monsignor looked up from the documentation he was affixing his signatures to and quipped “the director’s office is one side of this wall, and the Adoration chapel with the Blessed Sacrament and the office of miracles is on the other. So you might say everyone who is filed away here my office is in Purgatory, stuck right between Heaven and Hell!”
Once the signatures were complete and the interview finished, Fr. opened a door in the side of the room to a – I’m not kidding – giant, overstuffed utility closet filled with packing bubbles, cardboard boxes, and giant Rubbermaid containers. Our clean white boxes jauntily tied with red satin ribbon and embossed wax seals trundled into that closet looking like American overachievement incarnate.
Looking a little wearied by the state of the storage room, Father dropped to crouch and shoved some cardboard boxes aside, using his foot to nudge a pile of bubble wrap further out of the way.
“Here you go, let’s put Julia* right here. No, no, let’s push that other box over, she should stay together.”
(NB: Julia’s mortal remains are not in the boxes, just her files.)
And after a few photos and a handshake, that was that.
Afterwards Dave and I toasted his success with prosecco for Julia, “I’m glad you got to come with me, babe. That was pretty amazing.”
I kind of thought so too.
We clinked our glasses together, laughing over how she would probably respond to all the pomp and circumstance surrounding her, and how typically Italian Italy is, and always will be.
I hope I get to sit down with her one day in heaven and find out. Until then, Servant of God Julia Greeley, pray for us!
(If you have miracle stories of answered prayers from Julia’s intercession, submit them here.)