Why do Catholics honor the saints? Because God is an artist, and the Church is his masterpiece. Catholics do not honor the saints because they forget to worship God. They honor the saints because these are the saints in whom God has brought glory to himself. If you want to make much of an artist, you don’t ignore or downplay his art. Rather, you marvel at it. You walk around it again and again, always learning something new. When you love an artist, you don’t put his masterpiece in the closet. You frame it. You put it on a pedestal. So it is that God is an artist, and the Church is his masterpiece, his city on a hill (Matt. 5:14).
Walk about Zion, go around her,
count the number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
examine her citadels,
so that you may tell the next generation
that this is God.
When I read Psalm 48:11-13, I was able to see God’s creative skill in a fresh way. As Catholics, are we able to read the Psalms of the Old Covenant as if the New Covenant never happened? Are we able to read Psalm 48’s praise of the old Jerusalem without also thinking of the new Jerusalem? In Psalm 48, the sons of Korah invite us to look at the holy city Jerusalem and to marvel. In Revelation 21, John sees this Holy City, “the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”And he hears a loud voice saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people…making all things new!” (Rev. 21:2-5).
[Note: this essay was first published by Catholic Exchange and is reprinted with permission.]
Where does God dwell? God dwells in Jerusalem. Where in Jerusalem? In the Temple. And with what stones did God build his new Temple? Saint Peter says with the living stones of the saints, that chosen race and royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5-9). Saint Paul says these living stones are the members of the household of God, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple.” “In Christ,” Paul says, “you are also being built together into the dwelling place for God”(Eph. 2:19-22).
Jerusalem is a city, but she is more than a city. She is the people of God, the Bride of Christ, the saints, that special place where God dwells with us, Immanuel. And tonight I would like to persuade you that loving the saints more will not make you love God less. Honoring the saints does not detract from God’s glory, but only radiates it—for these are the saints in whom Christ has glorified himself! And God aims to get all the glory.
The Second is Like Unto It
Now, we all know that loving people less does not help us love God more. No husband in his right mind ever said he needed to love his wife less so that he could love God more. Love doesn’t work that way. We live in a Kingdom of surplus, not deficit. We have a bottomless supply of love. The first and second commandments, therefore, are not in competition: The more we love God, the more we love our neighbor; the more we love our neighbor, the more we love God. In fact, Saint John says that if a man claims to love God but does not love his neighbor he is a liar (1 John 4:20). Love of God and love of neighbor go hand in hand.
In Christ, there is no limit to loving. You can give and give and give…and at the end of the day, you’ll still have more love to give. Love never runs out (1 Cor. 13:8). So Psalm 48’s invitation to walk around Jerusalem—gawking at her beauty, stammering in her presence, staggering before her in awe—this is not idolatry or infidelity: This is the language and logic of love!
Now, what is the chief end of God? We know that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever: but what is the chief end of God? What’s God’s goal in creating the world and dying on the cross and making us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4)?
The chief end of God is, to borrow from Saint Ignatius, ad maiorem Dei gloriam, “for the greater glory of God.” Before God made the world—before he made you or me or the birds or the trees—from all eternity, God was up to something! He was up to bringing to himself…glory. In the processions and missions of the most adorable Trinity, the eternal Son is bringing glory to the eternal Father…and the eternal Father is bringing glory to the eternal Son…and in the bond of the eternal Holy Spirit, the Godhead is loving and praising and delighting in the Godhead. The divine life is a life of creative praise!
Everything God does comes out of God’s surplus of love. Why did God create? Isaiah 43:1-7, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name and whom I have created for my glory!” Why did God pursue Israel? Isaiah 48:11, “For my own sake I do it, for how should my name be profaned. My glory I will not give to another.” Why did Jesus become incarnate and die upon the cross? John 17:1-5, Jesus prays, “Father…glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…I glorified you on earth…and now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” And why does God give an “eternal weight of glory far beyond comparison”to each and every saint (2 Cor. 4:17)? Just read Revelation 5:13, where Saint John sees angels and bishops and thousands upon thousands of saints praising God with all their might.
But if God aims to get all the glory, why does he make us beautiful bearers of his image? Why does he strive to save us from our wretched sinfulness, and lift us up into his divine life? In other words, why did Jesus not just stop with the first commandment, “Love the Lord your God?”Why did he go on to say that the second is like unto it, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? The answer is because God is an artist.
“Walk about Zion, number her towers, examine her bulwarks.” Love the saints in whom Christ has glorified himself. Honor the Church which is his creation, his Holy City. God is an artist, and the Church is his masterpiece. How does belittling or ignoring or downplaying an artist’s masterpiece honor the artist?
If you want to make much of an artist, you make much of his art. If you want to make much of Jesus Christ, you make much of his Church. For in his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul says that we are God’s “workmanship,”his “handiwork”—and God aims to get all the glory (Eph. 2:10).
Love the Artist, Love the Art
Growing up, I was told that being devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary was idolatry, that loving the Church and all the company of Heaven was infidelity. I was told that in Heaven we would be so in love with God that we would no longer love anybody else. But even in Heaven the second is like unto it: “Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself.” Even in Heaven, we will have neighbors. But then we will see them for who they really are. To quote from a sermon C.S. Lewis preached in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…You have never talked to a mere mortal…It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
The take-away is that God’s goal is to bring glory to himself, and we can join him. We can love God more by loving his Church more. For we who are God’s creation, his special image bearers, his Body and Bride, the first and second commandments are not in competition, but complement and complete one another.
In conclusion, in Baptism we have become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). As Christ’s Church, we are his “workmanship,” his “handiwork” (Eph. 2:10). There is no limit to loving! So why do we tarry? Knowing that God aims to get all the glory, why do we hesitate to honor and love those saints in whom God has glorified himself? If God can make the lowly handmaid of Nazareth the Queen of Heaven, if he can give out crowns and prizes, thrones and honors to those he has purchased with his precious blood, and place them higher than the cherubim—who are we to say we know better?
The Kingdom of God is not an island, and you are not stranded there, just you and Jesus, all alone. The Kingdom is a Kingdom! A Holy City, the New Jerusalem! Populated with the likes of Moses and Abraham and John the Baptist and Peter and Paul and your grandmother and all the sons of Adam and all daughters of Eve who have become by grace sons of the living God…born again so that they might join God in bringing glory to God!
Walk about Zion, go round about her,
count the number her towers,
mark well her ramparts,
examine her palaces,
so that you may tell the next generation
Read it in Catholic Exchange.