Beatification a reminder of our heavenly role models

In the midst of the royal wedding and Osama bin Laden's death, Team Catholic was celebrating the beatification of Pope John Paul II.

"Beatification" might sound like some sort of project for the Department of Parks and Recreation, but it's actually the process through which the Catholic Church recognizes the holiness of some members and seeks to, according to the Catechism, "sustain the hope of believers by proposing the saints as models and intercessors."

It's kind of a big deal.

In "beatifying" John Paul II, or declaring him to be "blessed," the Church has put him one step closer to being declared a saint.

What does the Church mean by declaring someone a saint, a "model and intercessor"? Anyone in heaven is technically a saint, but there are certain members of Team Catholic to whom the Church gives MVP status -- with an official declaration of sainthood -- because of the great example they set and the way they modeled the Christian life for us.

While the Church never declares someone to be in hell, they will declare, after exhaustive research and miraculous evidence, that some are definitely in heaven. Catholics also believe those in heaven are able and willing to pray or intercede for us just like our friends on Earth can.

I find this comforting, because they probably have more time on their hands than I do.

Sometimes, this can seem disconcerting. The pictures of saints in our homes and churches, their images on jewelry -- even statues of St. Francis feeding the birds in a garden -- have caused some to misunderstand and think that Catholics are worshipping the saints.

However, the Catholic Church clearly teaches, as did the Old and New Testament (Deuteronomy 6:13, Luke 4:8) that, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve."

Saints are role models, not gods.

We read about the lives of the saints and put their pictures up on our walls or on car dashboards, not out of superstition but as a reminder that there have been real men and women throughout history who have faced the same challenges we did. That, as St. Paul reminds us, we are all surrounded by "a cloud of witnesses" and that we must "persevere in running the race that lies before us" (Hebrews 12:1).

Those in this "cloud of witnesses" have succeeded where we are still trying, and their stories offer us encouragement as we struggle to live the Christian life.

This is why the beatification of Pope John Paul II was incredibly exciting to me.

I am part of the generation he gathered for World Youth Days and spoke and wrote directly to -- in fact, my faith as a teen was formed by Pope John Paul II's personal invitation to follow Christ in the Catholic Church.

Now, as an adult, I know he is among this cloud of witnesses in heaven that I look up to (no pun intended) -- among those who are interceding for me while I still struggle through this life, hoping to join them in the next.