From holy cards to statues to the names we pick for confirmation, the saints are everywhere, and there are tons of them. If youâ€™ve ever seen all the volumes of Butlerâ€™s Lives of the Saintsâ€“ a collection of all the canonized saints in the Churchâ€“you know what I mean.
Itâ€™s great to have so many examples of people who’ve lived the faith so well. The problem is that we tend to think of saints as Catholic superstars, and we donâ€™t treat superstars like ordinary people. We stand in line at red carpets hoping to shake a hand, get an autograph, or take a selfie with someone famous, as if the power of their accomplishments can be somehow transferred to us. Itâ€™s easy to get caught up in the star power of a saint, especially when youâ€™re standing in a cathedral with her name on it. We collect relics, applaud the holiness, and move on with our lives.
But the saints donâ€™t want to be thought of that way, and Maryâ€™s not the greatest saint because she has lots of basilicas named after her. In fact, here are four (and a half) things the saints wish you knew:
1. The Saints were Ordinary People.
You’ve heard this one a thousand times, and it sounds like a cliche. Maybe a better way to say it is, the saints became extraordinary people. Itâ€™s hard to see that because when weâ€™re introduced to the saintsâ€¦ theyâ€™re already saints. We canâ€™t think of them any other way.
But despite our perspective, they were ordinary people. John Paul the II went canoeing. Padre Pio washed dishes. The mother of God did laundry. While they may have cathedrals and statues and feast days in their honor, itâ€™s not because they were more special or had more grace than us; itâ€™s because they started out in the same place we all do and still lived an extraordinary life. Which leads us to the second thing.
2. Sainthood happens today.
â€œBe perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.â€ (Matthew 5:48) Donâ€™t we wince a little when we hear that verse? We might even be tempted to look back on our life, shrug, and say, â€œToo late!â€ But why would Christ have given that command if it couldn’t be obeyed?
A priest I know explained that we’ve actually already followed Christâ€™s command. â€œBe perfectâ€ doesn’t refer to the aggregate of our entire life, but rather to the present moment. If you’ve given a cup of water to someone who was thirsty, if you’ve visited a sick friend, if you’ve wrapped a homeless person in a blanket, all for love, then youâ€™ve followed Christâ€™s command. In that moment, you loved perfectly.
This basically means that you become a saint by being more and more perfect every day. Sanctity doesnâ€™t come from a miraculous infusion of that special sainthood grace you get after you live in a cave for a year while eating only crickets and endlessly chanting the Salve Regina. (Donâ€™t get me wrong, I love the Salve Regina.) Instead, sainthood is instead a way of life, and life only happens in the present, today.
3. You canâ€™t compare yourself.
There are a infinite excuses for not becoming one of the saints, and the worst come from comparing ourselves to them.
So many saint stories involve a vision or a miraculous occurrence that when we look at our own lives and see a severe lack of angelic appearances or mystic visions, we may be tempted to think that we just arenâ€™t meant to be saints. But you donâ€™t have to have any of those things. Remember Christ said, â€œBlessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.â€ (John 20:29)
Even if we admit we donâ€™t need to have visions, we might say, â€œIâ€™m not Mother Teresa, I canâ€™t be a saint.â€ Thatâ€™s right; none of us can be Mother Teresa. But why would we want to? She doesnâ€™t want us to be her, God doesnâ€™t want us to be her, so why are we comparing ourselves to her? She was the right person to start an order of nuns in India. Thatâ€™s her thing, not ours. (Plus, sheâ€™s not even canonized yet, although itâ€™s a safe bet she will be.)
The point is that the saints are examples not necessarily of what to do but how to do it. They lived in different times and different places. Itâ€™s not really possible to be executed at the hands of a Roman emperor anymore.
So while we canâ€™t do what the saints have done, we can live how they lived: by loving God and neighbor. St. Augustine said, â€œLove God and do whatever you please.â€ If you truly love God with a love that despises mediocrity and rejoices in the power of the Cross, then it doesnâ€™t matter if you start an order of nuns or not, because youâ€™ll already be doing the exact same thing the other saints did. (Although I donâ€™t think St. Augustine would approve of drawing up plans for your own cathedral. So donâ€™t do that.)
4. The saints are family.
We profess our belief in the communion of saints every Sunday. What weâ€™re saying is that we believe that all the members of the Church are united, whether living or dead, whether in Purgatory or in Heaven. And the saints (canonized or not, because remember, if youâ€™re in heaven, youâ€™re a saint) are part of the Church; theyâ€™re not polishing halos, strumming harps, and ignoring us. They understand what weâ€™re going through because they already went through it; theyâ€™re praying for us; they love us.
We donâ€™t say novenas and collect relics and have statues because theyâ€™re talismans or because they mean we met with someone famous. Those things are a way to get closer to people we love, people who love us. If you read Butlerâ€™s, youâ€™ll see just how rich the Church is in her legacy of heroic, loving people and how many people weâ€™ve got rooting for us in the spiritual life. Read their stories and let them inspire you to greater things. Talk to your confirmation saint each morning and ask for intercession for your day. A living relationship with the saints, who always lead us to Christ, will help us on our journey to join their ranks someday.
4.5 You should call more often.
You know that friend who owns a truck who you only call up when you happen to be moving next week? Wait, you wouldnâ€™t only talk to a friend when you need them to work for you?
Good. Just remember: St. Anthony is that friend with a truck.
Written by members of The Crossroads Pursuit