Bishop Hying

World always in needs of saints to point us toward God as a common goal

      As we celebrate All Saints Day this Sunday, the Church lifts up all the holy ones, both canonized and unknown people, who fought the good fight, kept the faith and finished the race. I have always been fascinated with the saints because they show us what holiness looks like in so many varied and inspiring forms. They are to the spiritual life what astronauts are to outer space; the saints explore the uncharted territory of God’s love, grace and mercy.

      When people called Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and a person radically dedicated to peace and to the poor, a saint, she famously replied, “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” She has a point. Often times we do not truly consider the saints to be truly human or like us; the accounts of their lives often read like a Super Heroes comic book or appear almost mythological. Yet, Christ and the Church call us to become saints, in other words, to gradually grow into being the person that God has called us to become, to embrace the dream of a life radically surrendered to love.

      Although this thinking was never the official teaching of the Church, the popular understanding of sanctity saw it as the preserve of priests, nuns and monks. If you really wanted to be holy, you embraced priesthood or religious life; marriage, family and the world of the laity was for everybody else. The documents of Vatican II powerfully remind us that everyone is called to be a saint by virtue of baptism; we need holy married couples, parents, teachers, chefs, doctors and factory workers.

      Saint Francis de Sales foreshadowed this shift by centuries when he wrote in his “Introduction to the Devout Life” that it would be absurd for a mother of five to live the spirituality of a cloistered nun or for a merchant to pray in the same way as a priest. The recent dual canonization of Zelie and Louis Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, reflects the importance of lifting up saintly role models for lay people.

      Since my childhood, the lives of the saints have fascinated me!  The joyful drama of Francis of Assisi giving away all his possessions, serving the poor and receiving the stigmata inspired me. The unique and brief trajectory of Joan of Arc’s mysterious life and mission intrigued me. The extraordinary priesthood of John Vianney who tirelessly heard confessions for 16 hours a day overwhelmed me. The passionate love of St. Therese of Lisieux, lived out in the ordinary details of life, beckoned me. 

      The saints show us that it is literally possible to live the teachings of Jesus in such a totally generous way that we become a new creation in Christ. As St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  The saints become living icons of the Gospel, as the Word of God is imbedded and manifest in the conversion and spirituality of their lives.

      So what unites personalities and temperaments as different as Philip Neri, known for his humor and jokes, and Jerome who was irascible, Julian of Norwich, who never left her one-room cell, and Francis Xavier who traveled the Far East, Thomas Aquinas, a philosophical genius, and Joseph of Cupertino, who struggled with the books?  Each saint heard the call of God, experienced the pulsating love of the divine, and eventually surrendered every facet of their life and personality to the Lord.  They fell in love with Jesus Christ and nothing could ever be the same again.  This spiritual movement towards integrity is the challenge and joy of the journey towards conversion.

      Every Gothic cathedral in Europe has a rose window, an artistic explosion of glass and light composed of concentric circles of figures. Jesus Christ is always at the center of the window; the next circle pictures the Apostles; the third one depicts various saints and the outer circles represent the world of work, animals, nature and the details of medieval life.

      The lesson of the rose window is one of integrity.  If Christ is truly at the center of life, then everyone and everything revolve in a beautiful harmony around that center in love, justice and peace. The window symbolizes the well-ordered life, both individual and communal, in which family, work, politics, economics, sexuality, friendship, learning, leisure, money and time all fit together in a harmonious whole and find their ultimate purpose in the truth, beauty and goodness of God.

      The world will always need saints, joyous and generous women and men who point us beyond the ephemeral things of this world to God as our ultimate goal and good; we, too, are called to be radical and passionate witnesses who reject the false values of selfishness, comfort and complacency to show everyone that the only reason every human being is alive, the only purpose for which we exist is to fall head over heels in love with God and to draw as many people as we can into the divine romance which will last forever! 

      As St. Irenaeus said 1,700 years ago, the glory of God is the human being fully alive.  Go for broke; become a saint.  We only get to live this life once.


      + Donald J. Hying


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