Thursday, March 6, 2014

Not Your Average Saint

Is there such thing as an average Saint?  I suppose for many Saints are distant figures; people the Church has put on pedestals to intercede for us and to admire as those who achieve heroic virtue and sanctity in their lives on earth and now reap their reward in glory in heaven.  However, as I constantly remind my parishioners, they are not remote figures at all.  They were flesh and blood men and women like us, who faced many of the same difficulties that we do, but they often responded in ways that were more graced: graced, yes, but easier, no.  For them sin and temptation was as real as they are for us; the trials of life took their toll on them too.  Yet they abandoned themselves to God and strove hard to overcome these difficulties. 

In this Lenten season the prospect of Sainthood is put before all of us. The reason for this season is holiness - this is our annual retreat when we take stock of our lives in a more radical way and see that each one of us is called to heroic virtue, to great sanctity.  As Blessed John Paul II reminds us: holiness is God's plan for us, and the ordinary way of living for a Christian.  The trials and difficulties of life are the means through which we are sanctified, and we meet these with an ardent life of prayer, a radical renunciation of all that which hampers God's work in us and with a daily offering of ourselves to God so his will may be done in us. The road to holiness can often be a lonely road, but we do meet others along the way, some walking in the same direction, others trying to test us, and of course the ones whom we are meant to assist for Christ's sake, and for their own, so to perfect charity within us.

As we reflect on this we must also remember that those who have gone before us, the Saints, were all different and unique people, and sanctity manifests itself in different ways in each of them.  We have the obviously mystical and we have those who slogged their way through life with not such much as glimpse of a vision.  We have the gentle and patient, and then we have those who did not suffer fools gladly, like St Pio who was as famous for his gruff ways as his holiness.  We have people from every walk of life, and of every age; from those who lived long lives to those who lived very short ones. Many of these Saints lived in ordinary places doing apparently ordinary things and their heroism emerged there, others found themselves in the midst of turbulence, persecution and history's most traumatic moments and their holiness was formed in heroic deeds.  There is a Saint whose life mirrors yours.

For your Lenten reading today, I suggest an article from The Catholic Herald on G. K. Chesterton. There is an investigation going on at the moment to see if a Cause should opened for him.  Many of us are convinced that he should be canonised, but sometimes Mother Church and her leaders tend to take the long road on making decisions on whether to open a Cause or not.  Some would suggest they are taking the scenic route on this one.  Prudence, I suppose.  This article is good because it explains that Chesterton does not fit the mould of a conventional Saint (maybe that is why things are progressing slowly).  But then again, as I have said, there is no such thing as conventional holiness. If I may be Chestertonian for moment: holiness is wild, untamed, radical, unconventional - it is by its very nature heroic, and there is nothing common or conventional about heroism. Holiness breaks moulds, not fit into them, nor even make them.  Each Saint is unique in his or her holiness, they emerge from the crowd not slip behind it.  And let's face it, no one would ever accuse Chesterton of slipping quietly behind the crowd, he was no shrinking violet.  And perhaps it is for that reason, for his sheer (and perhaps even shocking) unconventionality that he is well placed to remind us all that we too are called to be Saints. 

So, as Chesterton would say, this Lent, let us begin the great adventure.

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