For all the saints
I love All Saints' Day, mostly because it's a lot like looking at paint chips. The holiness of the saints in all their variety is an endless array of colors. Each one's life is a unique reflection of God's glory and his love. Each radiates sanctity in a way no one else could. Every one of them is an adventure of life well-lived, often as full of drama as they are of purpose. And the range of saintly lives is astonishing. From Fatima visionaries Jacinta and Francisco to Gregory the Great, from Joan of Arc to Elizabeth Ann Seton, from Martin de Porres, Andrew Kim Taegon, and Kateri Tekewitha to King Louis IX and Margaret of Scotland, just about every way of life, every culture, and every era has been touched by God's glory.
There's nothing better than a good conversion story. A tale of redemption from sin and selfishness is always worth hearing. But I have to admit that I find pious legends rather tiresome. And there are a lot of them. St. Nicolas allegedly refused to nurse on Wednesdays and Fridays. Some, though willing to offer their lives in martyrdom, were not easily killed, even by experienced soldiers and executioners. St. Denis kept preaching even after he was beheaded. Sts. Polycarp, Agnes, and Lucy just wouldn't burn. St. Sebastian survived the wounds of countless arrows. Both St. George and St. Margaret of Antioch reportedly fought dragons. And if those aren't fetched far enough, there is even a greyhound that was locally venerated as a "saint" in 13th-century France. (I kid you not. His name was "St. Guinefort.")
Some of these legends are likely allegorical or based on historical fact. But I'll never understand why anyone would think embellishing the story of any saint was either necessary or desirable. The truth of redemption, heroic virtue, and faithful discipleship is already wonderful. And there aren't any "human interest" stories that are more human or more interesting than the lives of the saints. And that's why they continue to inspire and intrigue us.
The truly amazing thing is that there is no single answer to the question, "What does holiness look like?" And the beauty of that fact should both comfort and challenge us. It's not just possible for absolutely anyone to be holy, it is God's original design for every one of us. Cooks, soldiers, mothers, hermits, missionaries, bishops, children, and even notorious sinners can become holy. In fact, they were all intended to be just that.
So why aren't there more saints among us? On Nov. 1, the church celebrates the possibility that there are. Those relatively few Christians who have dates on the calendar and churches named after them are just a sampling of those souls who have, over their lifetime, allowed the Holy Spirit to conform them completely to God's perfect will. But we all know people whose lives are imbued with purpose and love, people who light the way toward God, who offer us a glimpse into what we can -- and should -- be.
These unsung saints, whose quiet fidelity and extravagant sacrifices so often go unnoticed, are hidden in the fabric of ordinary life. They go to work, raise families, help their neighbors, reach out to the poor, and serve the church in ways that are open to all of us. They seek God in prayer and in the sacraments. They cultivate both kindness and courage. They take up their crosses daily and learn obedience as Christ himself did, from what they suffer. But above all, they persevere. They are entirely committed to the project of Christian discipleship. They are willing to abandon self, to let the "old nature" die in order to bear a clearer and more compelling likeness of the God who created us in his image.
For all these saints, we should be grateful. To all these saints, we can look for guidance and the strength to begin again when we catch ourselves falling for something less than the noble call we have received.
- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.