Watching the TV coverage with my kids about the popes being canonized saints makes me feel a little hypocritical. My kids see others who were holy and then they look around our house and see a completely different way of life. What can I do?
So, you’re uncomfortable about the fact two popes were recently canonized saints and you are not even on the top 5,000 prospective saint list? Good! I am glad you don’t feel at ease because you and I were created to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”(Mt 5:48). This applies to our children, spouse and us.
Sainthood is not recognition of perfection but recognition that a person has lived a life of great love and heroic virtue. In the cause for sainthood, two miracles are generally necessary, but these come after a recognition of a life of charity and virtue.
This is your starting point. If you can ever hope for sainthood, whether in this life or the next, you must start living a life of love and virtue. By the way, sainthood is our goal as baptized Christians — to be a citizen of heaven with the other saints. The life of the Blessed Virgin Mary can be instrumental in understanding this. As May is a month devoted to her, she is a fitting example. As mother of God, she can teach us two important lessons
Lesson 1: Accept God’s will
What the Archangel Gabriel said to Mary at the Annunciation was not easy to accept. A young girl, a teenager, was being asked to bear the Son of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, she would conceive before her marriage. This was risky business. She could have been stoned to death for such a circumstance. As a young girl, what did she know about raising the Messiah, the Christ? Yet, in faith, she trusted in the providence, wisdom and love of God and she said, “Yes.”
Without knowing all the details about how God would make it possible for her to conceive by divine power; without knowing how she could be an adequate mother to the Son of God; without knowing how her betrothed husband Joseph would react; without knowing how she could cover up the shame that would fall on her own family; without knowing if indeed the townspeople of Nazareth would stone her to death; in so many ways without knowing what would happen or how things would work out, she had faith and trust in God.
This act of faith largely encompasses the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love. We must have faith in God even when we do not know how things could work out. We must have hope in God who has shown he has ways to accomplish his will beyond our reckoning or even our imaginations.
We must do it for the supreme love of God, for God’s own sake not for our sake and in spite of the trouble that following God’s will may cause. Having accepted the challenge of being the mother of God, Mary teaches us to accept God’s will in our lives.
Lesson 2: Live day by day with the virtues
Our Lady teaches us another lesson — how to live day by day a life of love and virtue. You might say, “But Mary was sinless, the life of virtue came naturally to her.” She was radically open to the will of God because she had never disobeyed or rejected God. But we also have the opportunity to get “right” with God through the sacrament of reconciliation. This sacrament and the tremendous, incalculable grace of forgiveness is our first step in the life of virtue. After we get “right” with God we endeavor and we promise to “sin no more.”
This sets our feet on the path of the cardinal virtues. Mary, again, serves as our model and example. Mary showed prudence when she went in haste to help her cousin Elizabeth, whom Mary had just learned was expecting a child in her old age.
Mary showed justice at the wedding feast at Cana, when she interceded before our Lord on behalf of the bride and groom. Mary showed fortitude when she conquered her fear of the unknown during her own pregnancy, the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt and throughout the rest of her life as mother of the Messiah, his public ministry, Passion, death and Resurrection.
Finally, Mary showed temperance in the magnificat when she acknowledged her exalted status but quickly gave all the credit to God, referring to herself as only a servant, she said:
My soul proclaims the
greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in
God my Savior for he has looked with favor
on his lowly servant.
From this day, all
generations will call me
blessed: the Almighty has
done great things for me,
and holy is his name
(Lk 1: 46-49).
This is the crux of the matter. Do we want our souls and lives to proclaim the greatness of the Lord? Does our spirit rejoice in God? When God looks down on our lowliness and blesses us, do we return the glory to God’s holy name?
Do you want to be a saint? Do you want your kids to be saints? I hope so. Can you all be saints? Definitely. And the Blessed Virgin Mary can be our model, our guide, our advocate and our companion.
(Henry, his wife, Dr. Patricia Cabral, and their five children belong to St. Patrick Parish, Milwaukee. Reyes, a doctoral candidate at Mundelein Seminary/University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Ill., is also in the deacon formation program for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.)