Saints are an answer to the temptation to abstraction. And that's why saints are valuable - necessary, in fact - to my own faith.
I am, by nature, a doubter. I don't like that about myself, I don't know where it comes from, but it's just a plain fact. I'm a natural skeptic, unwilling to believe much of anything that's presented to me as true at first glance. Perhaps there's a bit of pride working in there, too. Probably. Anyway, this tendency to doubt is not fun to live with. It makes lots of things, including what should be simple relationships, unendingly complex and angst-ridden, when they don't need to be. And that goes for faith, as well.
Which is why saints are such an anchor to my faith. Here's the way I think about it: I may practically be driven mad by intellectual questions about my faith sometimes. I know, I know - mystery. Faith seeking understanding, not the reverse. All true, but sometimes the gift (or curse) of being able to see all sides of the question, coupled with an intense imagination, works against an easy faith. But over the past year or so, I have come to a slightly different place, and it comes down to saints.
Quite simply, I force myself to think: If it was good enough for Theresa of Avila, it's got to be good enough for me. In other words, who the heck am I, faced with the witness of the likes of Theresa, Francis of Assisi, Augustine, Ignatius Loyola, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, Vincent de Paul, and the un-canonized saints like Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa - who am I to doubt what they say is true?
God is spirit, untenable, except as He reveals Himself in Christ, beyond human comprehension. Some have an easy time believing in this God, others, not so easy. They can see the atheist's viewpoint, even with its flaws. In a world of the Holocaust, terminally ill children and the mystery of simple human aging and decay, it is not totally unreasonable to doubt God's existence or at least the involvement of this caring, loving God we Judeo-Christians like to talk about. It is not totally unreasonable to drive by a church with a sign posted outside bearing the words, in the post-WTC weeks that says "Attacked by Man, Protected by God" and come up with a big, puzzled, and perhaps even cyncial, "What?"
So here's where they saints come into it. These are men and women who were on the most intimate terms with God. They were intelligent, probing, totally authentic people. And they knew that what they encountered in prayer, was, indeed, not a what, but was a Who - God. They were not lying about this in their words, and they were not lying about it in the actions that were their responses to the power of God they encountered. Pick out any one of the men or women on the list above, and you'll encounter a person who's done more to help other human beings than any one of us ever will do, who were people of peace and total joy, who became totally themselves, the people God created them to be. All of this because of their faith in God, their love for God, and their openness to letting Him work through their lives. Saints are a way for us to see the truth of God's existence and nature in the flesh. And so, when confronted with these holy men and women, the doubters among us, if they're honest, have to consider: Who is it I would like to be like, if not in the particulars (since we're all unique), but in general? These saints, of course. They are what all people - including me - are called to be. No one else. No leader, no writer, no builder, no thinker, possesses anything that is comparable to the joy of the saints. And these saints are who they are because of their intimacy with God and their fidelity to Him. In other words, their faith.
That witness, taken seriously and honestly speaks more convincingly than anything. Even the doubts.