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You’re Not Mother Theresa. And Here’s Why That’s OK.


Mother Theresa is a saint. Well, she’s only beatified right now, but there’s no doubt she’s going to be canonized. For years, she was held up to the world as an example of sanctity, an example that everyone could respect.

Interestingly, though, I’ve heard people say, “I can’t be a saint; I’m not Mother Theresa.” So there’s a problem: many of us Catholics think that Mother Theresa is the standard for modern sanctity. As in, you have to run off to India, live in a slum, start an order of nuns, and be HAPPY about it. Is that really what it takes to be a saint?

If so, there won’t be many saints from our times! I mean, has anyone else done that? Probably not. I’m certainly not going to be doing that. Especially the starting an order of nuns thing.

Me where that hat? Yeah right.


So what does it look like to be a modern saint, and can you do it?

The answer to the second question is an unqualified yes. The answer to the first question is…

It’s up to you.

Here’s the thing about saints. Some of them are canonized, and some of them aren’t. If you’ve gotten to Heaven, you’ve made it; you don’t have to have people naming their babies after you to count. The saints who are canonized are just the ones the Church wishes to hold up to us as shining examples of what is possible. Basically, you don’t have to be famous to be a saint.

But there’s one thing we forget about even the canonized saints: their sanctity lay in being holy where they were living and when they were alive. They were born into a time and a place. So emulating them does not mean doing exactly what they did — it means becoming holy like they were.

That holiness can take a popular form, like joining a religious order, but it doesn’t have to. You can be a stay-at-home-mom or a single guy and be a saint. You can be anyone in any part of the world and be a saint.

The story of Mother Theresa is dramatic and startling because it was so unlikely, in worldly terms, that her order would flourish. It showed anew what was possible for someone who was seeking holiness, working hard, and trusting in God. Not all of her story is new — I mean, what else should a nun be doing but praying and serving others all day, every day — but she did so well with the challenges God gave her, and radiated such joy while she did it, that she is truly an awe-inspiring example of modern sanctity.

But guess what? She never, ever felt like it.

Her dark night of the soul, as we learned later, lasted many years. I don’t think she felt amazing or special; I think she felt abandoned in that darkness. To her, she wasn’t a role model; she was a normal person trying to do well for God.

And that’s what we forget, looking from the outside: that every saint was a normal person to themselves. It’s only the people around them who saw anything amazing or great in their actions. To them, they were just struggling to do their best and smiling through it all.

So if you don’t think you can be a saint because you’re not Mother Theresa, you’re right. You can’t be “a Mother-Theresa saint.”

Because you’re not Mother Theresa.

Only you can be a saint like you can. That’s part of God’s gift of free will: that you can make a life that only you could ever make. And His gift is not only of free will but of imagination. Mother Theresa did something beautiful for God. You and I can do the same kind of thing. Not the same thing, but the same way: we can work with joy and love. We only need to look at our life, at our world and our place in it, and imagine the thousands of things we could do well for God and neighbor.

You may already be doing those things. You may already be living your vocation or actively exploring what it might be. But whatever the situation, you will absolutely feel like a normal person: weak sometimes, afraid sometimes, alone sometimes.

That’s how a saint feels.

You’re not Mother Theresa, and thank God for that. Because she already became a saint; she already did great her great work in the world.

And now it’s time for you to do yours.

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