A Saint I Can Relate To

Holiness? Maybe if we could be holy without being quite so O. C. D. about it?
Holiness? Maybe if we could be holy without being quite so O. C. D. about it?

I sometimes feel that there is an attitude in parts of the American Church in relation to the role of the saints as models. It is as if people say, “The Church doesn’t have enough saints I can relate to. Sure, all these monks and priests and nuns and missionaries and martyrs are great, but I’m not any of those things. I’m just an ordinary person. Isn’t there a saint that was, well, normal?”

So you point out Therese of Lisieux? Even I can’t possibly regard Therese as “normal” in any sense of the word. Sure she has her “little way” for “little souls” but have you ever read “The Story of a Soul?” She entered the Carmelites at 15! She had mystical experiences and she practiced heroic virtue and she wanted to be a missionary and a martyr and to die a million deaths for Jesus! How is that normal? I don’t do any of those things so how is she a role model for me?

Well, it turns out that her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, are likely to be canonized soon (the consistory is scheduled for June 27 of this year). They were married people. Surely they were a normal sort of couple. I mean they were married! How weird could they be?

But wait, didn’t they have nine kids? Didn’t all five of the surviving children become nuns? And check out the biographical sketch for their beatification:

“The daily life of the couple, lived in a perfect harmony of mind and heart, put in the forefront a loving observance of the instruction of the Church: daily Mass, confession, frequent Communion, and the constant practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. This fidelity to God opens the Martin spouses to the exercise of a charity without limits towards others: discreet alms to needy families, assistance to the sick and dying, intervention together to hospitalize a poor beggar. All these services are rendered in the greatest simplicity and discretion.”

“They go beyond the limits of their house and parish. They have an exemplary and generous missionary spirit, enrolling their children in the Work of Childhood Missions, making large annual donations to the Propagation of the Faith, and participating in the construction of a chapel and a seminary in Canada.”

Well aren’t they just the picture of a nice, normal, not-weird-in-the-slightest middle class family!

They did not see their marriage as a normal arrangement between two middle-class families of Alençon, but as a total opening to the will of God.

— OFFICE OF THE POSTULATOR GENERAL OF THE DISCALCED CARMELITES

Not!

So what gives? Is this your idea of “normal” saints? We ask for role models we can relate to and you give us this pair of goody-two-shoes? Is it any wonder the kids leave the Church if they think this is what they have to do to become saints.

Kids don't need heroes like this. That's just too humbling and discouraging.
Kids don’t need heroes like this. That’s just too humbling and discouraging.

It’s almost like trying to provide sports role models for kids. Kids want to admire the nice, normal Olympic gold medalists, the ones who don’t train obsessively everyday, the ones who don’t organize their entire lives around their sports. How do you expect them to be inspired by athletes who sacrifice everything in pursuit of greatness?

See where I am going with this?

The definition of a Saint is someone who gave literally everything for God. Saints are not comfortable role models. They are not meant to be, not in the modern sense of the word “comfortable,” anyway. They are meant to “com-fort” us by strengthening us (“com” is Latin for “together, with” and “Fortus” is Latin for “Strength, Courage”).

In fact, isn’t the truth that what we secretly mean by “normal” is really “worldly?” Convenient. Easy. Not too disruptive of our programs of entertainment. A saint who lives that kind of life is a contradiction in terms, like an Olympic champion who only trains for an hour every Sunday. Not only that but he shows up late or just barely on time, checks out mentally as soon as he gets there, and leaves before the cooldown. Yeah, that’s champion material right there.

My discomfort with the saints is not an indictment of their value as role models, but rather an indictment of the laziness and lack of dedication in my own life.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.

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