So I’ve been thinking a bit about the saints after our first go-round with a “Drunk Lives of the Saints” podcast, which was rather, um…(sound of thesaurus pages flipping (yes, I have a paper thesaurus, because I am, genetically speaking, part brachiosaurus))…besotted. Sounds fancy and intelligent, right? Well, let’s just go with that, then.
Regardless, it’s all gotten me thinking about saints and sainthood, not really somethingthat occupies a large portion of my brain space, as it generally seems like it lies well apart from my current trajectory. It would be like a rat dreaming of becoming a renowned French chef, or a trash-collecting robot setting his sights on saving humanity, recolonizing Earth, and finding true love with a ladybot named EVE. So unless I plan on Pixaring my way into canonization, it would seem that my time and efforts might be better spent trying to arrive at work on time for once, cooking a nice meal for my wife, and slogging through Lent with a billion or so other run-of-the-mill Catholics around the world.
But here’s the tricky bit about the saints – they’re not really meant to provide us with an unattainable goal. For every St. Benedict or St. Bernadette of Lourdes, people who had profound and lasting impacts on the dynamics of Catholic tradition, there are thousands of other saints who occupy the halls of Catholic Valhalla in relative obscurity. It’s one of the things that I love about the Communion of Saints. There is a nearly bottomless well of stories about people who lived lives with noble and heroic faith, which led them all on very different pathways that somehow converge on the same God, who simply asks us all to love one another in the model of Christ.
One of my favorite Catholic “saints” is not actually yet an official saint…yet. (But is anyone surprised that I’m making this difficult?) Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was a member of an influential Italian family in Turin during the early 1900’s. He loved art, music, politics, climbing mountains, hanging out with his buddies, and Jesus. Oh, and the poor. He really loved the poor. The thing is, he didn’t really make a big deal of it. He spent a lot of his time ministering to sick and impoverished residents of the city, but not a lot of time tooting his own horn. Well, he was a politician, so he must have tooted his own horn at least a little bit, but not about the whole “serving the poor” thing. When he died of polio at the age of just 24, his family was apparently shocked to see the number of people from Turin’s poorest communities who turned out for his funeral, and those poor people were, in turn, rather surprised to find out that Pier Giorgio was a member of a wealthy and influential family.
Bl. Pier Giorgio is just one of many examples of saints, “blesseds,” and other models of faith who serve as proof of Mother Teresa’s (St. Teresa of Calcutta just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue just yet, does it?) notion that small things done with great love can go a long, long way toward making our world a better place. In the latest edition of America Magazine (you know how Dizzy and I love our Jesuits!), Robert Ellsberg writes superbly of the imperative to view the saints as real people who lived real lives. He claims that, “the forms of holiness are countless. For one person that might mean marrying and raising a family; for another, it might mean becoming a scholar or writer, a farmer, a nurse, a monk or missioner, a peacemaker. There were saints who did all these things. The question is, what is our own path to holiness?”
And in the end, isn’t this what Lent, and the entire spiritual journey for that matter, is all about? We may spend our whole lives listening for a call to holiness, only to realize that the listening was the holiness! Or perhaps the holiness is in the raising of a family, the education of a student, the work of advocacy, the volunteering of our time and talents, or any of countless other options or combinations thereof. Regardless, as we seek to overcome our flaws and shortcomings during these 40 days of Lent it is important to remind ourselves that there is saintliness in an open heart and a small act done with great love.
To dig more deeply into the extraordinary ordinariness of the saints, check out Robert Ellsberg’s entire article, titled “Saints Not Superheroes”, by clicking here.