For much of my life, I have idealized the saints as superheroes in my mind. I believed that they were unbelievably pious men and women who were disciplined and fearless and, well, generally flawless. I certainly respected the saints, but I could not really relate to them. I attribute this largely to the fact that I, along with many others, have only ever encountered the saints through movies or books; in other words, we have only encountered them as abstract ideas rather than as real people.
This disconnect which I felt with the saints was largely dissolved the day that Pope John Paul II was canonized. Karol Wojtyla, as he was known pre-pope days, was a dynamic, energetic man who was alive during my lifetime. I had seen him smiling and waving on the TV and some of my family members had even caught a glimpse of him at World Youth Day about 20 years ago.
When he became a saint, my perception of those figures lined up on the walls of churches changed. They changed from static, still-frames to living, breathing people. Even though they lived many years ago, that doesn’t change the fact that they walked on the same Earth as you and me and they also struggled with problems which have plagued human beings throughout time. Through their own writings and writings about them, we witness how they encountered distraction, insecurity, fear, and other human flaws and how they overcame them by placing their trust entirely in God. Through the struggles and victories of the saints, we who are alive today can apply their wisdom to enhancing our everyday lives. It is often helpful to pick a saint who exemplifies a virtue which you feel that you lack so that you may rely on them for some guidance.
I personally pray quite a bit to Saint Joan of Arc, who is my confirmation saint. I greatly admire Joan’s complete trust in God as well as her commitment to carrying out His will. I mean, for goodness sake, she was leading an army when she was only 17 years old! That really puts the ordeal of looking for colleges in perspective, doesn’t it?
In all seriousness though, I recognize that for much of my life I have been a total scaredy-cat. I shy away from confrontation and adverse situations, I am intimidated by challenges, and I have an incessant fear of vulnerability. After I chose Joan as my confirmation saint, I made the decision that I would actively (and with her help) embrace my fear and grow from the resulting experiences. For example, to combat my shyness and general lack of confidence, I participated in theater throughout high school.
I never once stepped out onto stage without feeling absolutely petrified. Before each and every show though, I would pray to God to help me get through it, and afterwards I was both stronger in my faith as well as more confident.
Perhaps this was similar to Saint Joan’s mentality when she was alive: she purposely embraced challenges which frightened her because in our most vulnerable states we are most dependent on God. Even though we have this image of the saints as unshakable pillars of strength, I have no doubt in my mind that before every battle Joan’s heart was racing and doubts flitted across her mind. Nonetheless, she overcame these human weaknesses by firmly reminding herself that she was a steadfast soldier for Christ and she literally put her life in God’s hands.
I try to emulate Joan whenever I feel nervous and I want to shrink back into wherever I am most comfortable rather than where I may do the most good. She and the vast array of other saints are wonderful role models of holiness.
“Now, that’s all fine and good for those other people to be holy, but me? I don’t think I’m quite up to snuff.”
I think Saint Augustine would disagree with you. For those of you who are not familiar with the good ol’ doctor of the church, Augustine was quite the party animal in his youth. As you may have guessed from the first half of that sentence, he evidently had a change of heart and found himself capable of living a holy life and writing a good deal of influential theology books.
Holiness is an intimidating notion because when each of us looks at ourselves, usually we immediately recognize and condemn our faults rather than celebrating our fantastic potential. Because, the truth is, each of us has the potential to be a saint. We simply need to redefine how we think of the saints: rather than figures of antiquity, they are relatable, real-life leaders who are defined by how they embraced Christ in their lives.
I really love this quote which was used by Pope Francis at a World Youth Day (though it may have been derived from a speech given by Pope John Paul II), and I feel that it perfectly captures the aforementioned sentiment:
We need saints without cassocks, without veils. We need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies, that listen to music, that hang out with friends.
We need saints who put God in first place, ahead of succeeding in any career. We need saints who look for time to pray every day and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity, and all good things. We need saints, Saints of the 21st century with a spirituality appropriate to our new time.
We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change. We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it.
We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends.
We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, theater. We need saints that are open, sociable, normal, happy companions. We need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints.
(Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2013/07/did-the-pope-really-say-that/#ixzz3HI89TBPd)
So this All Saints Day keep in mind that you are not just celebrating some one-dimensional images painted on the walls of your church. You are celebrating mothers and daughters and fathers and sons; you are celebrating earnest and loyal friends. You are celebrating people who were prompted to serve by the burning passion of the Holy Spirit and the martyrs who decided that faith was worth dying for. You are celebrating people who snorted at silly jokes and who could have danced for joy with their tremendous love for others.
You are celebrating witnesses of the past, but you are also celebrating all of us alive today as we all have the potential to witness for Christ each and every day.
God bless, and have a great week!