Halloween is actually a religious holiday—it’s the Eve of All Saints Day (All Hallows Eve). But the only person dressing up as Mother Teresa was the most precious little girl I saw last year at a Barnes and Noble’s costume contest. I think she won.
Whenever I think of saints, I automatically picture Mother Teresa or my patron saint, Therese of Lisieux, or Bernadette of Lourdes, or another really holy-looking nun. The barista at Hard Bean and Booksellers never comes to mind. And yet he has just as much of a shot at sainthood as does a Franciscan brother living in a monastery. Maybe more.
Because to be a saint—to be holy in the truest sense–means being the best you that you can be. And there’s only one person who can be that wonderful self. (You.)
Whenever I think I blew my call to holiness back when I opted to move in with Eric instead of unload my bags at a convent, I read what two semi-famous friends of mine wrote on sainthood. They both remind me that I need not wear a habit or even a turtleneck to become an instrument of God in this world.
Robert Ellsberg writes the following in the preface to his book, “The Saints’ Guide to Happiness“:
In the years after I became a Catholic people often asked if I planned to become a priest or a monk. But ultimately, that was not my path. Instead I got married and had three children and went to work as an editor of religious books. And it is in that context, in the frequent bliss and the occasional bedlam of family life, that I have carried on my conversations with the saints. Sometimes their lives seem far removed from the world I live in. There are times when I fall into bed and think enviously of how easy it must be to find God in the quiet and solitude of a monastic cell!
But then the principal lesson of the saints occurs to me: the fact that for all of us it is our present situation and the given circumstances of our lives that provide our own road to holiness. This is my monastery! And if there is a way to God in my present life, I must learn to find it in the midst of work, of driving children to school, of walking the dog, of washing the dishes, and of responding to a hundred other demands on my time and attention. One learns to realize, for one thing, that it isn’t necessary to flee to some special religious place to find occasions for the exercise of patience, humility, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and generosity. A family can be an ideal place for this—better than a monastery in some respects. All this, even the writing of this book, is part of my way to God.
And Fr. James Martin writes this in the conclusion to his book, “My Life with the Saints“:
Believing that God wants us to be ourselves has been liberating for me. While I’m always called to grow, God asks only that I be myself, no matter what the situation. So when I’m listening to a friend tell me his problems, or hearing someone’s confession, or standing before a homeless man in the street, I don’t have to say, “What would Peter or Francis or Therese [not me—the holier one] or John XXIII do?” Certainly they are models of Christian action for me. But God has not placed them in this particular situation. God, in his mysterious wisdom, has placed me here, with my talents and skills, as well as my weaknesses and limitation. Therefore, a better question is, “What should I do?”
As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “For Christ plays in ten thousand places/Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.” In other words, in your eyes and in your limbs.
Believing that all of us are called to be saints has profound implications for daily life. An acceptance of what the Second Vatican Council termed the “universal call of holiness” imbues even the most hidden moments of one’s life with a special grace.
The universal call to holiness in an invitation to be ourselves. It’s also an invitation to remember the sacramentality of everyday life and to realize the great goal that God has set for us: sanctity. It is what the saints came to realize, sometimes in an instant, sometimes over the course of many years, whether they were born in first-century Palestine, thirteenth-century France, or twentieth-century America. Whether they lived in a quiet cloistered monastery in Lisieux, in a lonely desert tent in Morocco, or in the grand papal palace in the Vatican. Whether they worked alongside the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, with the plague victims in Rome, or with the gentiles of Asia Minor. Whether they succumbed to illness early in life, were martyred in middle age, or died after a long life of perfect health.
The call to sanctity is an invitation to friendship with God. It is a call that transformed the lives of the saints into gifts to the One who loved them into being. The invitation to holiness is a lifelong call to draw closer to God, who wants nothing more than to encounter us as the people we are and the saints we are meant to be.