All Saint’s Day and the Feast Days of the Saints give us an opportunity to talk to one another about our favorite saints. We point out that St. Francis loved animals, that St. Anthony was a great preacher or that St. Therese lived a life of simple holiness. All along, there is an unstated undercurrent to our comments that seems to say, “That was them and this is me; don’t mistake me for a saint.” “I could never do what they did, endure what they endured or have the profound faith or heroic virtues that they had.” I am sorry, and happy, to inform you that you are wrong. Not only can you do and be all of these things, but the process has already begun in your life. That is why these saints are attractive to you. I would like to provide a few Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to talking about the saints.
Don’t Compare Them Side by Side
Side-by-side saint comparisons don’t work. First of all, they lived at different times in history and the historical situation is often key to their life of heroic virtue. For example, many of the earliest saints gave their lives to defend the faith, such as St. Antioch or St. Justin Martyr. Some later saints lived in cloistered monasteries, such as St. Benedict, and still others lived in crowded urban areas, working with the poor, such as St. Teresa of Calcutta or St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Another significant difference was their age; sometimes they were very young like St. Dominic Savio or St. Maria Goretti, sometimes they were older like St. John Vianney and sometimes they only lived into their 20s and 30s, such as St. Therese of Lisieux (24) or St. Catherine of Siena (33). The lives of saints were truly unique from one another and unique in their own time in history. In this way, we are like them, each in our own situation, unique family history and facing our own battles and our own struggles. While they were all different, they did have many qualities in common.
Do Notice the Similarities
The saints had a profound love for God, a sincere commitment to follow the narrow path, a deep love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. They had a love for the Eucharist, a willingness to put others first, a willingness to stand up for their faith. They hungered to do the will of God, they had a love of prayer and a willingness to embrace the crosses that came to them. We might not exhibit all of these qualities but as we walk along the path of holiness, we will certainly start to identify more and more with this list because they will become important to us, too. As an example, I am a husband and a father of a family, as well as an ordained deacon but my devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary has helped me all along the way.
Don’t Put Them on too High a Pedestal
The pedestal should not be so high that saints stop being human. They had their personalities and their weaknesses, too. Many saints experienced deep conversions, such as St. Augustine, St. Margaret of Cortona and St. Camillus de Lellis. Some were impatient, such as St. Pio of Pietrelcina, while others were simple-minded and rejected by their peers, such as St. John Cupertino. St. Martin de Porres was an illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman. St. Faustina Kowalska was rejected from joining several convents before finally joining the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Blessed Solanus Casey didn’t do well in his seminary studies. St. Bernadette Soubirous was sickly with asthma and got so behind in her schoolwork that she was 14 by the time she was able to prepare for her first communion. Saints were people with their own obstacles; they were people who struggled with their own limitations and that of others around them. They did not allow this to hamper their commitment or their faith. They embraced those crosses and used them to grow closer to God. We can do the same.
Do Imitate Them; Don’t Copy Them
The world does not need a repeat of a saint of old. The world needs new saints who respond to new situations. Blessed Carlo Acutis, beatified in 2020, is the first saint to be on display for veneration in jeans. He created a website to catalog and showcase Eucharistic Miracles around the world. He had a deep love of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and used his technical talents to exercise his faith. Our modern world is clamoring for more holy website designers, more saints in jeans and more people in love with Jesus who will use their talents to build the Kingdom of God.
Don’t be Afraid
Many people look to the stories of the saints in awe: the miracles, the extreme life circumstances, the visions of Jesus or Mary. They erroneously think they could not do that. In part, they are right: they could not do that but God can do that. He can assist us with his grace to do the things which we alone would find impossible. There is nothing impossible for God; there is no sinner so evil that God could not convert if that sinner turned his gaze to Jesus and asked for forgiveness and help. There is no normal person so normal that Jesus couldn’t work through them to do extraordinary things or ordinary things with extraordinary love or patience or determination.
God is ready and willing to use each and every one of us. God is ready and willing to make new saints. The only ingredient missing is our willingness, our faith, our trust. Do not be afraid to say yes to God, do not be afraid to trust God; it is a win-win situation. If you trust God and it goes well, awesome, you will reap that reward. If you trust God and it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, and your trust is tested, then at least you are not lacking. There are certainly details you do not see or understand and, since even in those you choose to trust, your reward will be much greater.