“I want to become a saint, by satiating the thirst of Jesus for love and souls.—And there is another big desire—to give the Mother Church many saints from our Society.—These two are the only thing I pray for, work and suffer. Please pray for me, that I may fulfill His desire as regards our Society and myself.”
Blessed Mother Teresa, Letter to Archbishop Périer, April 4, 1952; in Come Be My Light (2007), p. 144.
On November 1, the liturgy of the Church gathers us to celebrate all the saints, that is to say, all those who are now in Heaven from every age—both those canonized who are recognized publicly, as well as all those holy men and women known to God alone who now share in the company of Heaven. Our relationship with them as united in Christ is the meaning of the expression “communion of saints.”
Most of these unnamed saints from all the generations throughout history probably lived their Christian faith as lay people. This throng of lay saints were first united to Christ in baptism and then either died as children or as adults who were married or who lived out a single life. Most of the martyrs were lay people—in the Early Church as well as in the 19th and early 20th century cases of the Martyrs of Uganda, the Korean Martyrs, and the Chinese Martyrs (as well as the 21 Coptic Martyrs of Libya this year).
Yet despite the proportion of saints in Heaven who lived Christian lives in the lay state, most canonized saints we honor by name lived the consecrated life or ordained priesthood. Why is this?
Some might say that it is a matter of resources and politics…religious congregations could recognize, honor, and thus bring forward the devotion of one of their own in the Church until formal canonziation; by contrast a family simply remembered a saintly grandmother, for example, through private anecdotal accounts which might not be passed on beyond the fourth generation.
Others would argue that it is a matter of focus or interest on the part of the Church…the clerics who oversee the canonizations chose to “promote” those of the same state as themselves.
But perhaps we might look to the nature of consecrated life alongside married life. Let us consider, on the one hand, the distinction of a public vows to a life of exclusivity in prayer and service (easier to recognize signs of extraordinary sanctity) to the hidden domestic life of marriage and family, and then, on the one hand, and common goals of each.
Why Consecrated Lives Look Different
To be “consecrated” is to be set aside for the exclusive service of God. This can be in the case of a consecrated chalice (only used for the Precious Blood), a consecrated space (a church building only for worship), or of a person in the consecrated life (responding to the call to be only for God). Just as the chalice has no other use than the Holy Mass—to see one is to think of the liturgy immediately—so too, the consecrated person has chosen freely to have no other “use” than belonging to God and His Church.
The consecrated person also imitates Christ’s way of life in a radical way by freely renouncing many evident goods by means of vows: possessions (vow of poverty), marriage and family (vow of chastity), and self-determination (vow of obedience). After all, Christ Himself is the Chaste One, the Poor One, and the Obedient One par excellence.
Religious life is therefore surprising and striking because of the unique dedication to seeking God through the separation from the many other aspects of human life on this earth. As such, the way of life of the consecrated person offers a special “face” of the mark of the Church’s holiness, much in the same way a chalice points to Jesus’ sacramental presence—another aspect of the sacred, the holy.
Marriage and the Hidden Life of Nazareth
Married saints (both those canonized and the abundant unnamed married saints in Heaven) more easily seem to blend in with other people at first glance…while radiating powerful examples of prayer and fidelity. Like the Holy Family in Nazareth, married saints appear to all to be doing many of the same things as their neighbors: raising children, going to work, picking up groceries and getting stuck in traffic! Yet the holiness and fidelity with which they honor God and their practice of the perfecting virtues of daily life make them saints when they complete their course and enter into Heaven.
Married saints in a particular way may offer a special “face” of the mark of the Church’s oneness. The diversity and unity of the family—father, mother, sons and daughters—are held together by charity and grace, as is the Church. Perhaps, for this reason, holy couples are often not formally canonized unless some extraordinary event makes their hidden daily lives of sanctity more visible. For example, St. Gianna Beretta Molla became known and formally canonized because of the heroic charity she demonstrated in offering her life for her unborn child—though she was already saint! So too, there are many religious men and women who are unnamed saints, but they become more visible under extraordinary moments of heroic charity like St. Maximilian Kolbe.
Spiritual Fruitfulness of Consecrated Life and of Family Life
On the other hand, both consecrated life and the family share in the same essential two-fold goal:
- to become saints and
- to give saints to the Church.
Let us see again the example of Blessed Mother Teresa, “I want to become a saint, by satiating the thirst of Jesus for love and souls.—And there is another big desire—to give the Mother Church many saints from our Society.—These two are the only thing I pray for, work and suffer. Please pray for me, that I may fulfill His desire as regards our Society and myself.” (Letter to Archbishop Périer, April 4, 1952; in Come Be My Light (2007), p. 144.)
Is this not the same sentiment of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin (parents of St. Therese of Lisieux)? As husband and wife, they wished both to become saints and to educate their children in the faith so that they too might become saints—and they did!
Ultimately, this is the journey and goal of all the faithful: personal union with Christ in a holy life, and the overflowing charity which compels us on to help others become saints too. Every religious family seeks these two goals, as should every Christian family, and every individual Christian.
Let us strive for Heaven with all our might, trusting in God and seeking to help others do the same!
Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32