How often have you heard it sung, “Oh when the saints come marching in, let us march in their number.”  With the canonization of seven new saints last month by Pope Benedict XVI and the celebration of the feasts of All Saints and All Souls at the beginning of this month of November, our thoughts quite naturally go to these blessed companions on our journey of faith. As a youngster, I always delighted in reading stories of the saints.  When I was in second grade, sick in bed, I received a beautiful book about St. Martin de Porres with all kinds of colorful pictures.  The story about his kindness and compassion for the poor helped me learn early in life that my life simply could not be just about me.  It would have to be about and for others.

Because November begins with these celebrations in memory of those who walked the pathway of faith before us, I decided to write about some of the saints who have been very special in my own life.  In fact, on retreat several years ago, Father Paschal Cheline of Mount Angel Abbey was a last minute substitute as director of the retreat for us bishops here in the Pacific Northwest.  Not surprisingly, his reflections were inspirational and helpful.  When he talked about devotional prayers to the saints, I listened attentively!

One day, in talking about prayer, he suggested that we make better use of those early minutes every day when we rise and get ready to go out on our daily round of activities. He told us how he had created his own personal litany of saints, one that he would pray while he was shaving, showering, getting dressed and making his bed.  Each saint in his litany would remind him of a particular group of people that he wanted to include in his prayers.  I resolved that when I returned home I would create my own litany and in that way remember every day people who have been very special in my life. That suggestion has been a true grace.  I am sharing my litany with you to encourage you to put together your own morning litany and start your day likewise “marching with saints.”  

The way I begin, of course, is by praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I then ask the Holy Spirit to guide me throughout the day. I pray to Mary, the Blessed Mother, that she will help me be a faithful disciple of her Son, Jesus, and then to St. Joseph, for the grace of a holy, happy and peaceful death.  Next I turn to St. John the Evangelist, my namesake, asking him to pray that I will be faithful to my promise of chaste celibacy and then to St. George, my secondary patron, that he will inspire me to be courageous in doing what is right and just, even when others might encourage me to seek an easier way out.  I also invoke Sts. Peter and Paul, to whom I pray for our archdiocesan church, that together we will truly become the kingdom of God here on Earth.

My litany turns to others whom I hold dear in my life.  I pray to St. John Nepomucene, a holy priest whose Czech heritage I share, for my family and friends. St. John Vianney is the patron of all priests and I turn to him in prayer for all my brother priests in the three dioceses where I have served as a bishop.  I also add prayers to St. John Neumann, the first American man to be canonized a saint.  I ask him to inspire all of us priests to lead holy, humble and obedient lives.  Men and women who embrace the consecrated life have been very special for me on my journey of faith.  I pray for them through the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, a more recently canonized sister, whose patience in suffering and compassion for others mirrored so much of what is admirable in the lives of religious women and men.  

St. Cecilia, the early Christian martyr after whom my baptismal church was named, comes next. I pray to her for perseverance in my own faith and priesthood, gifts that I never want to take for granted.  I pray in particular for brother priests who have left the active ministry on my watch or among my friends, that God will watch over them and bless them.  I was ordained a bishop on Dec. 13, the feast of St. Lucy.  Through her intercession I pray for all my brother bishops, beginning with Pope Benedict and many other co-workers, classmates and friends, who have blessed me with their friendship and inspiration. St. Thérèse of Lisieux has been a lifelong friend, one to whom I turn and pray for the success of our church’s evangelizing mission and for all missionaries who leave family, friends and homeland to spread the good news ad gentes. I conclude the way I began, with a doxology of praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Some days the litany takes me a little longer, especially when I think of particular individuals who may have special needs. These saints to whom I pray daily remind me of all the saints, canonized and otherwise, who have surrounded me in my ministry as bishop and in my life as a disciple of Christ. God has blessed me with the companionship of so many good folks along the journey.  Throughout this month of November, inspired by all who have gone before us, I shall continue to pray for all of you, called to be saints, but still in the making.  All saints of God, pray for us.