Author, speaker and theologian Scott Hahn has written numerous books about the faith, from his own conversion story to the sacraments and everything in between. Now, the Franciscan University of Steubenville professor and newly appointed visiting scholar at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago has focused on a new Catholic topic: angels and saints.
In Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship With God’s Holy Ones (Image Books, May 2014), Hahn tackles the notion that the saints are inaccessible or somehow different than the rest of us.
He recently spoke with the Register about his new book and what the angels and saints should mean to Catholics in their everyday lives.
The inspiration for this book is pretty obvious. And yet you take on a topic that’s vast. What motivated you to approach this topic?
The Church has gone through a lot in recent years. We’ve seen scandals and missteps. Many Catholics feel betrayed by their leaders, or at least under-confident. Many have lost their sense of the Church. They don’t see the Church that has inspired the greatest works of art and charity and science and culture in all the history of the world. They’re missing out on the Church in its perfection, the Church of the angels and saints.
God has established just one Church, and it’s both heavenly and earthly. When we worship, we never worship alone. When we go to Mass, we acknowledge the presence of “all the angels and saints.”
God gives us the hosts of heaven to assist us in our tasks on earth — and our greatest task is to join them in heaven. This is something I first learned, as a Protestant, from reading the Bible. I found it confirmed in the writings of the early Church Fathers. And then I saw it presented gloriously in the documents of Vatican II, especially Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
You spend time in the introduction speaking about the Church as the “perfect society.” How is that the basis for what you wrote in Angels and Saints?
That’s a phrase I found, when I first became a Catholic, in all the old theological manuals. The Church, they said, is a perfect society. And I found the word “perfect” to be jarring.
I mean, I loved the Catholic Church. I found it to be beautiful and enriching and better than anything else I’d seen. But “perfect”? There were some Sundays when almost all I noticed were the flaws — bad music, uninspired preaching and a blasé congregation.
But the Church is not just what we find on earth. It’s what we find in heaven. The Church in heaven is perfected and proves to us that we have the capacity to be perfected. That’s what the Church is for — to make us saints, to make us fit to worship with the angels.
We find our way by imitating the saints, who imitated Jesus Christ in many walks of life. We can see, even in ordinary life, how good friendship helps us to grow. Well, friendship with the angels and saints helps us to grow into divine life, the life we hope to share forever in heaven. Our heavenly friends, like our earthly friends, can serve us with good example, encouragement and prayers of intercession.
In your role as a husband, a father and a professor, how have the saints guided you and helped you? When have you turned to them, and how have they impacted your faith and your relationship with Christ?
I’ve been Catholic almost 30 years now, and I’ve grown into the good habits cradle Catholics picked up in the cradle. When I lose something, I go to St. Anthony. When I’m feeling helpless and hopeless, I go to St. Jude. When I’m struggling with a thorny theological problem, I go to St. Thomas Aquinas.
In all my roles, I’ve learned to go to the guardian angels — my own guardian angel and the angels who guide and guard my wife and my children. The angels are the great helpers in family communication, in friendship and in professional life.
I can’t say I excel in any of these areas, but I’ve benefited consistently from the angelic assistance God gives us. They are part of the great and perfect society, part of our community, part of the Church.
What’s the biggest challenge (aside from word count) you face when you put together a book on a topic this vast?
Paring it down. First, it was hard to choose just a few representative saints. When you’ve lived in the divine family for 30 years, you find that you’ve gathered a rather large personal “cloud of witnesses.”
Once I had the list, the big problem was reducing each saint’s profile to just a few pages. Every saint I chose has been the subject of intensive study, with hefty volumes of biography. With some, like Augustine or Moses, you could fill up a library just with the secondary literature.
Who do you hope is touched by your work in Angels and Saints? Did you write it with a specific person or group of people in mind?
All kinds of people. I hope its readers are as varied as the communion of saints. James Joyce called the Church “Here Comes Everybody,” and that’s what I love about it. Through this book, I want to sit down and talk with them all, on earth and in heaven.
Of the saints and angels you write about in this book, who’s especially close to you?
The Blessed Virgin Mary. I love all the saints, and I’m close to many. But she’s the Mother I share with all of them, because Christ is our brother, and he has given us everything: his home, his table and her motherhood. Other saints are siblings, but Mary is Mom. I turn to her more than all the others.
You’ve written so many books already, spoken on a number of other topics and are still fairly young. Is there any topic you wish you had the time to write about or anything you would secretly love to just leave the rest aside for and research and write about? Or is it all exhausted?
Seasons change, but the task remains the same. I’m drawing close to 30 years as a Catholic. I spent the first 15 teaching in classrooms and through tapes (and later CDs) or my Bible studies. Then I spent 15 years writing books and contributing articles to academic journals and other publications.
I’m not finished writing books. In fact, I have another book, Evangelizing Catholics, out from Our Sunday Visitor, at the same time as Angels and Saints.
But, lately, I’ve found myself emphasizing the classroom once again. I love my students at Franciscan University. In the fall, I’ll be teaching at Mundelein Seminary as well. In both places, I’m integrating the study of biblical theology with the practice of the New Evangelization, helping students — as laypeople and as future priests — to serve Our Lord and his Church in the way that he wants us to serve.