The Saints, Your BFFs

by David Mills

North Texas Catholic


Saints stand in a row in this Greek fresco painting.Saints stand in a row in this Greek fresco painting.

“The Church in heaven is All Saints,” explains the English priest and writer Ronald Knox. “The Church in purgatory is All Souls. The Church on earth is all sorts.”

Everyone will like Knox’s line. But I think one of the reasons Catholics fret so much about the Church and yell at each other is that very few of us actually believe it. What most of us believe is that the Church on earth is the right sort. Or ought to be, if only other Catholics were better. But most of us, we’re not ourselves the right sort. The right sort we call saints. Yet.

Knox was a rising star in Protestant England who gave up prestige and privilege to enter the Church. Vastly gifted, he became the Catholic C. S. Lewis, a great writer who could write in lots of different forms, but in ways the average believer could understand. Actually, I should say that Lewis was the Protestant Knox. Knox saw deeper and truer than Lewis, not least because he was Catholic. I wish he were better known.

The Church’s genius is in making of all sorts the right sort. It’s a machine for making saints. Sometimes it turns a man or a woman into a saint really fast. Those people are the ones who get named as saints. It has to send most men and women on to a second round of refining. Those are the ones who find themselves in purgatory.

Knox called our time on earth a “probation.” We’re being tested to see what we become, and we only have so much time to pass the test. Someday, and not that long from now, we’ll die. We’ll have to hand in our final exam and wait for the grade.

We must, he says, “apply that knowledge and live in the light of it.” The world tries to make us forget that we will die and face our Maker. “We are apt to forget the first principle of our probation, which is this: that the most important moment of our lives, the moment around which all the rest of our life ought to be grouped as its center and climax, is the moment when we leave it.” In other words, we should live in order to be the holiest person we can be at the moment we die.

Knox explains what that requires. “You’ve got to be absolutely eaten up with the love of God: that’s the only thing that matters. Our prevailing idea of the saints is that they were people who made themselves very uncomfortable.”

But that’s not the point, he explains. The saints let themselves suffer what they did to serve the God they loved. They might have given up their lives in martyrdom or subjected themselves to strict disciplines. They might have exhausted themselves serving the poor. They said to God, “God, whatever you want, I’m in.”

This is the great thing and something to remember at Mass on Friday. The saints will help us become saints. The Church teaches they’re not just models for us to imitate. They’re living men and women invested in our lives. St. Francis of Assisi loves you. More than your family or friends do. He will talk to God about you, asking for help. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux love you. St. John Henry Newman loves you. Jesus’ own Mother loves you.

Amazing but true. When the Church talks about the Gospel, the good news, the love and care the saints give each one of us is part of it.

Knox tells us: “They can see you and me still ploughing our way through the mud and the darkness of this earthly existence, feeling our way with difficulty and falling, every now and again, into the ditch. And they can help us; not only because the light of their example shines down on us, and makes it easier, sometimes, to see what we ought to do. They can help us with their prayers, strong prayers, wise prayers, when ours are so feeble and so blind.”

All Saints reminds us that we have friends, BFFs, in high places.

David Mills edits Hour of Our Death (

“The Church in heaven is All Saints,” explains the English priest and writer Ronald Knox. “The Church in purgatory is All Souls. The Church on earth is all sorts.”