I love a good party. These past few weeks there have been so many feasts to celebrate that I have not been able to find a day without one. It can make one’s head spin. If you think I am referring to a busy social life, I am not. What I am referring to are the many celebrations of the Saints in our Church calendar. If one looks closely, it is clear that we love to celebrate those who have imitated Jesus so greatly that they serve to inspire us to live our lives more closely allied to theirs. Catholics love to honor the Saints and those on the road to canonization, the beatified (or Blesseds.) We celebrate them because of their heroic virtues, their love for the poor, their service to their neighbors, and their excellent teaching. These are people with the same baptismal call as we have been given, but they have stood out by living love quite obviously because of their devotion to Jesus, our Lord.
Our calendar is full of Saints whom we celebrate. In the past two weeks we have celebrated Saints Ignatius Loyola, Alphonsus Liguori, John Vianney, Dominic, and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, (Edith Stein), just to name a few. Next week we are celebrating Saints Clare, Jane Frances Chantal, Maximilian Kolbe, and Stephen of Hungary, not to mention a major feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary! We love our Saints, and as a Church we enjoy celebrating them. But what is most interesting is how varied these people are; they are not "cookie cutter" people. Rather, they are as different from one another as can be. For example, of those named above, one started out as a college professor who was also Jewish, one had trouble with his studies and could not pass Latin class, one was a lawyer before entering religious life, one was a king, and another was a former soldier who may have killed someone during his courtly career! There are no two alike, though some may have similar stories. And this is one reason I love the Saints: there is a Saint (or two or three) for everyone.
The best part about the Saints, however, is that they teach us that we can become Saints no matter what our lot in life may be. Some Saints, like Martin de Porres, were from families that lived in abject poverty. But rather than bemoan his circumstances, (and in his case there was some serious prejudice he had to overcome since he was of mixed racial heritage), he became more compassionate towards both the poor and rich alike. Others, like Pier Giorgio Frassati, came from rich homes, yet always had a heart for the poor and worked tirelessly to help them. Some struggled with illness their entire lives, such as Padre Pio who could keep little food in his stomach. Others were quite healthy but gave their lives as martyrs, such as Perpetua or Franz Jaggerstatter. Some were brilliant, such as Edith Stein or Thomas Aquinas. Others struggled with studies or were never taught in schools, such as John Vianney or Bernadette Soubirous. Some were artists, such as Fra Angelico, Andre Rublev, or a defender of icons named Lazarus Zographos, (which means ‘the painter’). They were all as individual as could be.
What the Saints do have in common is that they never took the easy road. They allowed themselves to grow on the path which God led them. Each one became the person that they were called to be no matter what their circumstances. They let neither riches nor poverty influence them. They knew that growing in relationship with God requires work; they knew they needed to put in time and effort to grow through prayer, study, and reflection. Whether it is the time spent in study or in honing a craft, if one wants to get better at anything there is no easy road to take. Even the most endowed among us have to work at the gifts they have been given if they want to grow and most especially if they want to grow in holiness.
If we want to grow in holiness we must realize that if we have something which we cling to that comes between us and God, (not necessarily material) we need to let go of it. It means being emptied in order to be filled. The Saints are the ones who have learned that if they want to be filled with God, they need to create a space for Him. One cannot be filled with wisdom and grace if one provides no room. They learn through the hard work of prayer and interior struggle to let go of all that is not God. They do this because they learned to love God so greatly that they do not want anything to hinder their relationship, and not because God forces them to let go. When they let go of that which they were attached to and attach themselves wholly to God they find true riches.
Therefore the Saints spend time in prayer learning from the Lord, worshiping and being so filled with love, they freely surrender to their Beloved so that they may serve Him in serving His people. They learn to love with His heart because they have been loved by that very same heart. While we are all loved by God equally, we learn to love better if we pay attention to how He loves us so that we may be so aware of the gift that we cannot contain it, and thus we share it. To share love is to know love. To be so loved by God, it is impossible to be unaffected; our hearts seek to share the joy of such love, therefore we give it away by serving and find that instead of coming away empty, we come away with fullness.
For many, being inspired by a Saint was how they came to become Christ-like and therefore, holy, themselves. They simply grew in love of the Lord and therefore they lead us to God as they reflect God to us. The Saints live the Gospel and they can be a gateway to God for others through the love they share. All of us should aspire to such holiness. By nature of our baptism we each share in a universal call to holiness. Even if we are never noticed in a global way, and most of us will not be, we can make a difference in the lives of the people we touch.
There is no corner on the market for sanctity. While we do imitate certain Saints for a particular virtue that we find inspirational, we are not called to be exactly like someone else. We are called to be the unique person that we were created to be, using the unique set of gifts, talents, experiences, and circumstances we have been given. We need to realize that our diversity as a people is what makes us so beautiful. Every person, no matter who they are, no matter how small it seems, has something to offer the Kingdom. The beauty of our call is that we do not have to worry what situation we encounter: God is the one who gives us the graces we need to serve Him as we are called.
I love our celebration of the Saints because in truth what we are celebrating is how much God loves us to have given us people like them so that we know He is with us and to inspire us to be like them. We do not have to perfect, just as none of them were perfect. But we can try to love with the same love with which we are loved. Our call is to persevere, to hold onto faith and trust in our God, to love the best we can, given that we are human and fallible. Ours is to trust that He forgives us our sin and to trust in the power of forgiveness He can cultivate in us to free others. Ours is to be a presence in a world that does not always welcome goodness and justice. Even if it is silent witness, ours is to pray for the reparation of sins, to love as we can, and to simply be who God calls us to be. We do this because we are loved and want to love Jesus back.
The Saints are good role models whose influence we seek as well as their intercession for us and our world. By celebrating them we are celebrating both who they were and that holiness is attainable. We can have the heroic virtue they had if we let God help us to build upon our own virtues. And ultimately we can have the joy of being filled with His grace and love, savoring it more deeply and intimately, as we share that love others. The evil in the world may seem to be overpowering, but we must remember that ultimately God is in control. In the end He will be victorious. And it is with our perseverance, guided by the Saints, that we can make a difference.
May we be inspired by the variety of Saints to give our own unique gifts such as they did! May we look to the Saints to understand how to love greatly in all the little things we do! May we learn from the holy ones how to persevere in trust in the Lord! May we celebrate the lives and the feasts of the Saints through imitating their virtues! And may we accept the gift of holiness that the Lord is offering to us! Let us continue to meet in the heart of our Lord Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photos are mine, taken in Colorado on Copper Mountain.
The icons are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first one is Edith Stein: Patroness of Europe and it is found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/holy-women-and-girls-gallery/product/70-st-edith-stein-patroness-of-europe
The second is St. Andrei Rublev Patron of Iconographers and is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/component/hikashop/product/123-st-andrei-rublev-patron-of-iconographers
The third is Santa Clara y San Ignacio and it is found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/holy-women-and-girls-gallery/product/66-santa-clara-y-san-ignacio
Heart Speaks to Heart