The Ordinariness of Sainthood

Don’t call me a saint – I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.

Dorothy Day

A painting by Nicholas Brian Tsai.

A painting by Nicholas Brian Tsai.

One of Dorothy Day’s better known quotes, some interpret it to mean that she didn’t think much of the saints and of sainthood in general. Indeed, there are those in the Catholic Worker Movement that she co-founded with Peter Maurin who do not support her cause for canonization, claiming she would not want it, and that the money spent on the process should be given to the poor.

Yet, her attitude toward sainthood is exactly what makes her so relevant for us today in the post-Vatican II church. Her remark is directed at those who see sainthood as something extraordinary that can then be dismissed by the average person as something out of reach. They are happy to call her a saint for serving the poor, because then they don’t have to, since they would never presume themselves to be that holy.

But Dorothy didn’t want her work with the poor to be dismissed as something extraordinary. She understood it as simply her duty as a Christian to care for the needs of her brothers and sisters. And she wondered why all Christians didn’t feel the same way, why they all didn’t love their neighbor as themselves, and why they did not act on those feelings. Wasn’t that the message of the Gospel?

“You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

To be perfect, then, is to be like God. It is to love perfectly, as God loves. Only God is holy. All holiness comes from God, and it is given to humanity as a gift. A saint is one who is made holy, or sanctified. Saints are not holy by their own efforts. They are made holy by God as a gift, and their efforts are their acceptance of, appreciation of, and cooperation in this gift.

Holiness depends on one’s relationship with God. People are holy to the degree that they are united to God. By perfectly holy, then, we mean intimately united to the Trinitarian God (the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit) so much so that there is a oneness of heart, mind and will. In this intimate union, we are able to love perfectly as God loves. Pope Francis tells us of the need for a relationship with God on this road to holiness.

Being holy is not a privilege for the few, as if someone had a large inheritance; in Baptism we all have an inheritance to be able to become saints. Holiness is a vocation for everyone. Thus we are all called to walk on the path of holiness, and this path has a name and a face: the face of Jesus Christ. He teaches us to become saints.

Pope Francis, Angelus,  November 1, 2013

One who is sanctified possesses a yearning for God, an intimacy with God, perseverance in prayer, humility of heart, and a love for others. All of us are called to this holiness. Each of us is called to this intimate relationship with God. This is the beauty of relationship – each one is unique. God communicates with us uniquely. His message is the same – God will not contradict himself. He only speaks the truth. But his communication with us is so personal, so “meant just for us”.

We must strive to unite our heart, mind, and will to that of Christ – to love as Christ loves, to think as Christ thinks, and to desire as Christ desires. This seems rather extraordinary (as those who dismissed Dorothy Day as such), but it is, in fact, what is expected of every baptized person. The grace of our baptism empowers us to be like Christ. We need only to cooperate in it.

We are all called to be great saints, don’t miss the opportunity.

Mother Angelica

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs at Saint Joseph’s College.

“Do I have a vocation?” Yes!

The Church places great emphasis on “praying for vocations” with good reason. In order to carry out Christ’s mission on earth we need strong families, faithful lay people and, of course, priests, deacons and religious to care for our sacramental and spiritual needs. There is, however, a part of any discussion of vocations that is often left out: what is a vocation? This is an important question to answer because knowing what a vocation is will tell us who has one.

Before I met my husband people would ask me if I was married, or seeing someone. As the years went by and my twenties turned to thirties and beyond, the question came with a twist: “Well, have you considered a vocation?” That really bothered me, I guess because it felt like a reminder that I was “alone.” But it’s actually a question based on a misunderstanding – namely that as a single person I should only consider the religious life because I didn’t already have a vocation. The truth is that each one of us has a vocation, and it is activated at our baptism.

Pope TweetThe Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2013) quotes Vatican II, saying: “’All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity.’ All are called to holiness….” The word vocation means a call, and this call comes from God and requires our response. The call to holiness is our responsibility and task as Christians. What does it mean to be holy? Scripture says God is holy, and that we are to be like God. According to St. John, “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8). If being holy is to be like God, and God is love, then our call from God – our vocation – is to love! The answer to the question I heard repeated as a single person– “Have you considered a vocation?” – is, “I already have one. And so do you!”

The specific way we carry out our vocation to holiness and love is called our state of life. The states of life generally refer to marriage, priesthood and the consecrated life (religious sisters and brothers). We can spend many more articles just on the states of life, but the important point is that each one of us is called to holiness, to become like God: to love. Love is not a feeling, but a decision to do what’s good for another. If love were simply a feeling we couldn’t count on it, because our emotions change all the time. As persons made in the image and likeness of the God who is Love, it’s possible for us to love even when it’s difficult – or when we don’t particularly like someone. The way we love each day is enacted in our words, our actions, and in our very presence to another. We do this within our families, at work and school, at church, and in all of the encounters we have throughout our day.

Each of us is called to live out our vocation, regardless of our age or ability. For example, we wouldn’t think an infant “has a vocation,” because he can’t enact love in the ways we mentioned, much less make a decision to do so. Yet even the baby of the family is living his vocation by his very presence in the home. Next time you’re at church sitting behind a family with a baby, or see a mom or dad with a baby in a shopping cart, note your reaction. It’s only natural to coo, make faces and try to make him laugh. His presence alone is enough to draw out our love! God’s love is made present to us through the innocence (and cuteness!) of a child, and that child draws us out of ourselves. The same thing happens when we care for a family member who is ill, or non-responsive. She may not be able to say the words “I love you,” but her presence, her vulnerability and her need for us draw out love. We forget ourselves and we desire only the good of someone else. Our vocation to love is enacted in the care for a loved one – or fussing over the baby. Their vocations are enacted when they provoke in us a response of love. This provocation comes directly through the grace and loving presence of God.

We should “pray for vocations” every day; that each one of us enacts his or her vocation to love as spouses, parents and grandparents, children, priests and religious, and single persons, regardless of our age or capabilities. How is God calling you to carry out your vocation to love?

Ann Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. This article first appeared in Eastern Catholic Life, the official publication of rhe Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic.

 

Forget the Past and Push On to What is Ahead

During my doctoral studies in Rome, when the going got rough, I would head over to the church of Sant’Agostino near Piazza Navona to ask Saint Monica’s intercession. Monica is buried at the church named for her son, and she is for me a source of inspiration for what it means to grow in holiness.

Monica_of_Hippo_by_GozzoliWhat I learned from Monica is why the church honors many of its sons and daughters with the title of “saint.” Their lives really have a timeless dimension that teaches, inspires and encourages Christians in every age. Monica, whose feast we celebrate today, is a testimony to the strength that comes in keeping God at the center of one’s life and making God one’s reference point in all things—in other words—never losing sight that holiness is the journey of life.

Whenever I am asked to lecture on the theme of the universal call to holiness, I begin by asking people to name people who they think are models of holiness. Always, always, Mother Theresa is the first or second to be named (no surprise there)! As names are added, we move from saints, to loved ones, to friends, but never does anyone ever name themselves! And yet, by virtue of baptism, all of us are called to holiness. We are much better at naming what disqualifies ourselves than recognizing that holy is what we are in the process of becoming. Monica teaches us that we need only to fix our gaze on God and holiness becomes possible.

From what little we know of Monica’s life, it would not be on any list of optimal environments for holiness to flourish. She discovered the enticement of alcohol as a teen, she married a man who was a drinker and known to be violent and unfaithful. She had a son who was too smart for his own good and a difficult mother-in-law who tried her patience. One could understand if the mark of Monica’s life was that of despair and yet her story is quite different.

Monica was raised in a Christian family. Her strong sense of self was grounded in her relationship with God. She was devout and committed to serving others. It is said that her husband, not a Catholic when they were first married, would criticize her for her piety and generosity, but she continued to be faithful, to be true to herself. She was faithful in the face of infidelity; she was kind in the face of ridicule. She loved her children with the love we learn only from God. In her love for her son, Augustine, we see that she saw something in Augustine that he did not see in himself. Trusting God’s providence, she prayed and prayed! She stayed close to Augustine, reminding him of what he could be rather than what he was. Monica entrusted him to God, knowing that she could only do so much. Tomorrow, the church celebrates how the story of Augustine ends!

Like, Augustine, Monica’s husband also saw the authenticity of Monica’s faith and her love for him and their children. He began to see the power of a faith that never wavered. He too converted. Monica’s patience and love and realization that she had God on her side became an irresistible invitation for her family.

Augustine writes in his Confessions, that shortly before his mother died, they were enjoying a conversation in the presence of The Truth–that is God– and speaking about the promise of eternal life. Augustine writes that in the conversation, “They were forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead” (Phil. 3:13). It is a good reminder to us that God is not as interested in our past as he is in our future. In Monica, we learn that we are most true to ourselves when our lives are oriented toward God and trusting of his providence.

Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.