Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.
1 Cor 1:11
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
Scott Hahn uses these two and many other great quotes both from Scripture and the early saints in explaining the biblical history of asking for the saints' intercession in his book Signs of Life. These two really stuck me because man are they something I need to work on and also because our "worship" of saints is a major sticking point for many. It's understandable - altars? medals? prayers? feasts? It does look wonky from the outside.
But taken with these two Scriptures it makes a little more sense. The saints are people who we can look to as examples; they are holy ones whose lives should lead us to Christ. And in doing that make us holy by our imitating Christ. That's where I fall down. How often do I forget to be Christ for others? Way more often than I care to admit. At least I'm in good company.
Both Paul and Augustine (whose quotes I'm getting to, hang with me) are self-described big time sinners. But they are also now two of the most admired early Christians, both for their conversions and changed lives and for their contributions to theology. As bishop, Augustine often had to deal with heresies that cropped up and defended the devotion to the saints.
"It is true that Christians pay religious honor to the memory of the martyrs, both to excite us to imitate
them and to gain a share in their merits and the assistance of their prayers. Yet we do not build altars
to any martyr, but to the God of martyrs, although it is to the memory of the martyrs. No one presiding
at the altar in the saints' burial place ever say, "We bring an offering to you, O Peter!" or "O Paul!" or
"O Cyprian!" the offering is made to God, who gave the crown of martyrdom, while it is in memory of
those thus crowned."
Personally, I read that with a "well, duh" tone to it. But I grew up with the saints. I'm real tight with a few and am developing relationships with others. I will always remember my mom explaining prayers to saints as being the exact same as calling a friend to ask them to pray for us, just that these friends are a different kind of call away. I suppose as Catholics we need to find ways in our admiration of the saints to be more clear in that distinction - admiration, not worship. Because, after all, it's just us here who have trouble with the distinction. The saints aren't foolish enough to take what isn't theirs: "For holy beings themselves, whether saints or angels, refuse to accept what they know to be due to God alone." -Augustine of Hippo