Yes, the saints are human just like ourselves. They are in no way gods or super-humans. In the early church, the word “saint” was used to describe anyone who was a member of the community that expressed faith in Christ. Christians believed that death did not end one’s membership in the family of faith. The bonds of faith and love continued between the living and the dead. So when someone who had lived a good life died, they were presumed to be still members in good standing of the “communion of saints.”
After a while, Christians who had lived lives of remarkable holiness, or who had accepted death by martyrdom rather than deny their faith in Christ, were honored by their contemporaries as being among those who had surely attained union with God. Eventually the bishop of Rome established a formal process, called canonization, that studies the lives of extraordinary persons to decide whether they should be proclaimed worthy of veneration as saints by the entire Church. The number of actual saints is certainly much larger than those on the list of canonized saints. Any person who has died who seems by every indication to have lived a good life may be presumed to be enjoying eternal life with God.
The word “veneration” simply means that we honor and respect saints as models for living a good Christian life. Because there are now so many canonized saints, each with a unique personality and style of holiness, they are a sign to us that there are many ways to live out Christ’s call to discipleship. We don’t have have to fit into one “saint mold.” We can be ourselves in responding to the call to know, love and serve God.
Catholics don’t pray to the saints. We pray only to God. But we can ask the saints to pray for us. In the family of faith we share with Christians in THIS world, we might ask a friend to pray for us when we are facing a difficult decision, or pray for a friend’s mother when she is ill or in danger of death. We believe that God hears and answers prayers. Because we still share a community of faith with those who have died, we can still pray for them and our prayers can be helpful.
So we pray for family and friends who have died. We also ask the saints to pray for us, because we trust that God hears the prayers of those who live in relationship with him whether they are living or dead. We don’t HAVE to ask the saints to pray for us; we can certainly pray directly to God. But some Catholics feel a special kinship with a particular saint and they ask that saint’s assistance as they might ask a relative or close friend to pray for them in a time of need.