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How to become a saint – Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s Feast Day 2009

Many of us here remember the safe landing of US Airways Flight # 1549 into the Hudson River this past January. A total of 155 persons aboard — no lives lost; pilot and crew performing gracefully and competently under the worst kind of pressure.

We heard words like remarkable, extraordinary, heroic. One passenger even used miraculous. But in interview after interview, the pilot, Captain Sullenberger (Sully) would explain the successful landing and safe evacuation of passengers and crew this way:

“My first officer, Jeff Skiles, and I did what airline pilots do; we followed our training and our philosophy of life. We valued each and every life on that airplane and knew it was our responsibility to save each one. … We never gave up.”

Just doing what they’re trained to do — safe departures, safe arrivals, competency in the face of emergencies. Nothing extraordinary, just doing what they do every day according to Captain Sullenberger.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like Saint Mother Theodore’s response to the sister who asked what she needed to do to die like a saint.

We know Mother Theodore’s answer: it was very terse. If we wish to die as saints we must live like saints. Pretty direct and straightforward.

We heard another response in what was read before the entrance procession: What must we do to become saints? Nothing extraordinary, only that which we do everyday — only do it for his love.

Tempting as it is to look at the life of Saint Mother Theodore and use words like extraordinary, remarkable, heroic — even miraculous — she doesn’t let us off the hook that easily. She insists that doing the ordinary for the love of God makes us saints — not in the hereafter but now.

Just like Captain Sullenberger and his crew, Mother Theodore believed in a rigorous and regular program of training. Most of us here may never have seen training manuals and programs for airline pilots and crew members; but we are very familiar with the essential training manual for sainthood — the Word of God in Scripture.

We just heard proclaimed in our midst the Scripture chosen for the celebration of Saint Mother Theodore’s life, chosen to help us remember her as a woman of Providence and to guide and encourage us to be people of Providence ourselves.

What must we do to become saints? Nothing extraordinary. Just do the following says our Scripture:

prepare yourself for testing
cling to God
accept whatever befalls you
trust in God
make your ways straight
hope in God
hope for good things
fear not
sell your possessions
give alms
provide yourselves with purses that do not fail.

Nothing extraordinary…just what we do everyday … for the love of God.

The Sisters of Providence here know I use this quote of Mother Theodore often. I suspect that’s because I struggle to accept it.

A huge part of me prefers to believe and act as if people like Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and Captain Sully and his crew are one in a million, extraordinary, not like the rest of us.

Part of me prefers to ignore the fact that the path marked out by Providence will involve testing, straightening out the path of my life so as not to include so many stops along the way to indulge in fear, mistrust, ingratitude, possessiveness and skewed priorities.

Part of me prefers to require less of myself.

But that’s only some of me. I also yearn to trust Providence as Mother Theodore did, to delight in even the quirkiest people as she did, to turn to the beauties of nature and find myself in the heart of God — as she did. And she assures me it’s possible. Not easy … but possible with God’s good grace — the grace that so often comes through the bravery, kindness, insight, the helping hand of another person.

Captain Sullenberger insisted that five people — not one person — saved the lives of all aboard Flight 1549. I imagine most of us can still conjure up the sight of those five brave crew members standing on the wings of the aircraft still afloat in the Hudson River. They had safely evacuated every passenger and were awaiting rescue themselves.

Could we have a better image of working together, of working for the sake of others at the cost of oneself? Could we have a better image of ordinary people doing extraordinary things together as one? Could we have a better image of how we can help one another act out of and be our best selves?

With that image in our minds and the works and words of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin ever before us, let us continue to do nothing extraordinary, only that which we do for — and do it for the love God. Let us — always — help one another become saints.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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